The aim of the research paper is to define the importance of the problem of police brutality and ways of its prevention. It discusses the change of public’s attitude towards brutal law enforcement officers. It also investigates the reasons for law enforcement officers’ misconduct. The paper discusses influences, beliefs, values, and manners of an officer who implements the force inappropriately. It also focuses on the characteristics of police officer’s occupation and their impact on his/her brutal behavior. The paper provides a study of the characteristics of a suspect that may cause unlawful actions by police officers. It also provides data for the reasons for impunity of police actions. It discusses responses to the issue of police brutality. This paper argues that inappropriate prosecution of cases of officers’ misconduct by federal or state prosecutors may result in severe consequences. The paper ends by suggesting the ideas of police brutality prevention.
Keywords: police officer, brutality, misconduct, federal prosecutor, state prosecutor
The problem of police brutality and illegal use of force has always been an important issue in the history of the United States of America. All countries around the world should protect the rights of citizens by fair and effective international law. The police forces should be responsible for enforcing this law. Their most important obligation is to respect people with whom they interact on a daily basis. They should fight crimes, maintain order, keep peace, solve problems, and accurately and attentively use the force and authority they have. Despite the fact that the obligation of every police officer is to protect human rights, it is evident that a big number of people, especially minority groups, face police brutality and violence. Therefore, the paper will discuss the issue of police brutality, its reasons, and prevention.
The unlawful and unjust use of force by police officers can weaken citizens’ faith in fair criminal justice system. People want them to follow the laws just as ordinary citizens do. It is impossible to justify violence and police brutality under color of law. There are examples when police chiefs throughout the USA confirm that the problem of police violence is real (Panwala, 2002). They claim that victims will never respect the law after officer’s abusive actions (Panwala, 2002). With the excessive use of force against people, hostility between the police and the community will only increase. Until the issue of police brutality remains unsolved, the responsibility for the consequences lies primarily with the state and federal governments (Panwala, 2002). Even though people have tried to understand the reasons for police misconduct, there is still no theoretical explanation of it.
Reasons for Police Brutality
Society is the major source that grants power to police to maintain and enforce the law. Excessive use of such power usually results in police misbehavior, especially violent and brutal one. In order to understand the seriousness of this issue, it is vital to understand its causes. People do not understand the reasons for granting police officers the power to use force. They have an authority to apply both physical and psychological force in order to arrest criminals and solve cases (Alpert & Smith, 1994). In the early 1980s, the U.S. Civil Rights Commission tried to examine critically the necessity of a police reform (Alpert & Smith, 1994). However, it did not explain the reasons for brutal behavior of police officers.
Any criminal lawyer knows that application of force by police officers against criminals and defenders is a common occurrence. However, people tend to believe that only police officers with mental disorders can do it (Davis, 1994). They think that ordinary officers will never kill or beat a person. Unfortunately, they also can commit violent actions. When an officer kills a suspect, criminal lawyers describe it as an incident (Davis, 1994). Thus, it is widely known that a police officer does not need to be racist or mentally ill to do harm.
The most common reason for brutality is that an officer wants to teach a criminal a lesson in his/her way. Virtually every police officer has the same emotions that cause such behavior. The majority of defendants who suffered from police brutality are African-Americans and Mexicans (Davis, 1994).
The most important reason for police brutality is the existence of a subculture or the influence of a peer group (Chappell & Piquero, 2004). Its members usually share behavior different from the acceptable conduct. They have beliefs, values and manners that are not appropriate (Chappell & Piquero, 2004). The subculture usually excuses and justifies its irrational and violent actions. The main characteristic of such groups is social isolation. In order to get support and approval, police officers maintain the behavior of the subculture (Chappell & Piquero, 2004). They usually accept and commit brutal actions under intense control and affect of other officers. They also favor less strict punishments for defendant’s misconduct, accept bribes and resort to theft (Chappell & Piquero, 2004). Likewise, most often police brutality and violence leads to police corruption (Panwala, 2002).
Characteristics of Police Officers’ Misconduct
The police officers’ work includes enormous number of functions. For instance, they should fight crimes, maintain order, keep peace, solve problems, and implement force appropriately (Klahm & Tillyer, 2010). It is their duty to arrest criminals, but not punish or assault them. Brutality and violence is unacceptable in police officer’s work. Unfortunately, all of these tasks have nothing to do with the present-day police work.
The most severe violation of human rights by police officers includes abusive actions, especially misbehavior, brutality, violence, and corruption (Chappell & Piquero, 2004). There is no statistical evidence of police wrongful actions. However, it is well known that virtually every police department experienced police corruption or situations that caused public outrage (Chappell & Piquero, 2004).
Police officers have a unique job, which includes features that may facilitate divergent behavior. They have freedoms that most citizens do not have. For instance, they have such freedoms as driving at high speed, using deadly violence, or even levying of distress (Chappell & Piquero, 2004). This occupation provides both the opportunities for misbehavior and its justification. Furthermore, it is almost impossible to detect this misconduct because no one supervises police officers and they work in places where no one can observe it (Chappell & Piquero, 2004).
There are a great number of definitions of police misbehavior, including drug trafficking, defiance, and negligence of duty (Chappell & Piquero, 2004). However, the most widespread one today is officers’ brutality. The suspect’s characteristics, such as race, ethnicity, gender, age, type of demeanor, social class, and level of intoxication may cause unlawful actions by police officers (Klahm & Tillyer, 2010). The studies have investigated historical relationship between minority communities and the police continue in the 21st century. The findings stated that police officers more often subject African-Americans to the excessive force than their white counterparts (Klahm & Tillyer, 2010). For instance, on April 2015, the police arrested an African-American 25-year-old man from Baltimore, who eventually died from the excessive force used by the officers (Blinder & Perez-Pena, 2015). The studies of application of force have also shown that police officers act more violently against male suspects than female (Klahm & Tillyer, 2010). It is a well-known fact that suspects’ demeanor greatly influences the police behavior. For instance, police officers treat disrespectful defendants in the same manner (Klahm & Tillyer, 2010). Another important issue that defines police treatment is social class. Even though the law requires equal and unbiased treatment for all people, sometimes there are exceptions in the use of force by the police (Klahm & Tillyer, 2010). Finally, the level of alcohol and drug intoxication of the suspect closely relates to his/her demeanor (Klahm & Tillyer, 2010).
The Response to Police Brutality and Its Prevention
Even though there is an enormous amount of evidence of police violent actions, state and federal prosecutors largely ignore it (Panwala, 2002). Federal prosecutors have a power to handle the cases of law enforcement officers’ abusive behavior. For instance, between 1982 and 1991, the Federal Bureau of Investigation examined approximately seven hundred civil complaints in California (Panwala, 2002). They investigated nearly 260 officers who once worked for the Los Angeles Police Department or Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (Panwala, 2002). The Bureau eventually accused only four police officers. Thus, it is evident that federal prosecutors withdraw applications due to the misleading police reports (Panwala, 2002). They usually tolerate and do not take seriously police officers’ violence.
Until federal or local prosecutors improve the expertise to prosecute abusive police officers, nothing is going to change in the USA. Police departments have to ensure fair and impartial attitude of police officers to suspects. They need to train them in a way that could prevent misbehavior. They also have to assess personal traits of an officer with the help of psychological tests, which will help to define the risk of abusive and brutal behavior.
To conclude, a police officer is a unique and different from any other profession. Understanding of the use of force by police officers is vital. They are granted the power of using force, which they sometimes abuse. Undoubtedly, police officers can use necessary force in order to pacify or subdue a suspect. However, they have to reduce this force after they remove a threat or place a defendant under their control. In any other cases, police brutal actions cannot be justified and require further examination at the state and federal levels.