Law and order are essential for any civilized society; the lack of the two leads to anarchy. Hence, police are an integral function of any civilized society. Typically, police are responsible for enforcing the law, maintaining public order and safety, and detecting, preventing, and investigating criminal activities. Unfortunately, in the United States, the police have a longstanding history of abusing the power the public has entrusted them with, as demonstrated by the alarming prevalence of police brutality. According to Holmes (2017), police brutality refers to a police officer using force that exceeds the level required to control a situation, avoid injury, or sustain life. Holmes elucidates that police brutality has historically been a prevalent issue in the US. This paper seeks to examine the causes of police brutality to unearth perspectives that can inform lasting solutions to the problem. Notably, the use of excessive force by police against Americans is unjustifiable, and the government needs to treat it as a public safety issue. Developing clear and consistent standards for police officers’ training, involving mental health experts, and emphasizing accountability can help remedy the issue of police brutality in the US.
Causes of Police Brutality and their Remedies
One of the causes of police brutality is the lack of sufficient training. According to Holmes (2017), most contemporary instances of police brutality indicate inadequate training. Holmes explains that police academies have adopted military approaches in their training programs. For instance, in the 1960s and mid-1970s, police academies began adopting aggressive military approaches to their training amid civil wars and the war on drugs. In the 1990s, they embraced a shift toward community policing. However, this did not last long since the 9/11 attacks reinvigorated the aggressive military training approach. Due to this type of training, police tend to rely on their military training when a situation escalates, even if it is mildly.
Notably, police academies need to update their training programs regularly to ensure that police have the required knowledge and skills to police diverse populations. The academies should emphasize training prospects on focusing on safe containment to ensure they restrain from using unnecessary force when they graduate. When police do not have the proper training, they do not see anything wrong with their actions, even if they involve excessive force (Albrecht, 2017). Consequently, this leads to an increased prevalence of police brutality.
Over the years, there have been many reforms seeking to improve police training. However, they never seem to achieve the desired outcome effectively. For instance, in 2014, after the police brutality that caused the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, the then president, Obama, established a task force that was to investigate the issue of police brutality and make necessary recommendations. The task force proposed several changes encouraging the state boards to oversee police training to ensure the training thoroughly tackles topics, such as crisis intervention, cultural responsiveness, indirect bias, and mental health, among others. The consequences of these recommendations are not viewable or are insignificant. Tracey Meares, a professor at Yale Law School, insists that it is impossible to know much about what the police departments across the US are doing to implement the changes since the federal government does not have many facts on policing (Preston, 2021).
Thus, whereas the government may have invested in the theoretical aspect of solving the training issue, the implementation part remains wanting. John DeCarlo, a former police chief, who now watches over the master’s program in Criminal Justice at the University of New Haven, emphasizes a need to revise the police training program curriculum. DeCarlo also proposes that state and federal governments need to invest in ensuring that police officers achieve higher levels of education so that they incline more towards community policing instead of the aggressive military approach. This should involve the police academy having criminal justice scholars and experts teaching the community policing aspect instead of police officers (Preston, 2021). Thus, improving the training programs can prove a crucial step toward combating police brutality.
Another cause of police brutality is an infirm accountability process. The criminal justice system does not hold accountable most police officers who use excessive force. According to Holmes (2017), in approximately 98 percent of unwarranted police killing cases, the police officers responsible do not face any consequences. When the criminal justice system fails to hold these officers accountable for their brutality, it indirectly encourages them to use excessive force. When a nation has effective processes for holding police accountable for their actions, it deters police officers from using excessive force, as they are afraid of the repercussions.
Ehrenfeld and Harris (2020) explain that in the US, the standard processes for holding police officers accountable, rehiring fired officers, and issuing civil compensations to victims of police brutality are some of the key factors fueling police brutality. The US criminal justice system has set the barometer for charging police officers with criminal conduct extremely high. The perception that if an officer uses force is for the greater good of the society largely mislead the accountability process. As a result, the bar for charging and convicting police officers is extremely high compared to regular citizens. The officer who killed George Floyd in 2020, Derek Chauvin, was involved in at least 18 misconduct cases before he brutally murdered Floyd (Ray, 2020). Notably, if the criminal justice system effectively holds police officers accountable many deaths caused by police brutality, such as Floyd’s, can be avoided.
Two major policies can help remedy the accountability issue, consequently combating police brutality. First, there is a need to establish a body specifically designed to investigate cases of police brutality. Currently, states have to invite the Department of Justice to investigate cases of police brutality. Given the many cases of police brutality that occur nationwide, it is arguably impossible for the Department to investigate all the cases thoroughly (Ray, 2020). The proposed body/agency should have a department in every state to ensure effectiveness. Second, officers who have received termination due to brutality should not work in law enforcement again. The proposed agency should conduct thorough investigations to ensure that the evidence it provides for job termination due to the use of excessive force is beyond reproach. Hence, police officers fired following the investigations become unsuitable to hold any job that entails law enforcement. Notably, these policies law will serve as an effective deterrence measure for police brutality. According to the deterrence theory, criminal penalties not only punish the violators but also discourage potential criminals from committing similar offenses (Donner et al., 2021). Police brutality is criminal misconduct; as such, the criminal justice system should it as so to ensure the deterrence of potential offenders. Thus, the criminal justice system must hold police officers guilty of brutality accountable for their actions.
It is worth noting that no matter the training an individual receives and the deterrence measures put in place to deter them from committing a crime, if there are underlying individual problems, such as mental health issues, they are likely to commit police brutality. Albrecht (2017) elucidates that the mental health of police officers plays a significant role in determining their conduct. A 2019 study established that police officers with high levels of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are more likely to engage in abusive police practices. The study found that the probability for an officer with PTSD from job-related stressors to exhibit tendencies toward suspicion, have an increased startle response, and experience problems with aggression are considerably high (Velazquez & Hernandez, 2019).
The traits render an officer more likely to overreact and use excessive force, leading to severe harm or death. Some researchers have also theorized that antisocial personality disorder traits (psychopathy) can cause a police officer to exhibit brutality. Officers with the disorder have traits such as fearless dominance and cold-heartedness, which can cause them to use excessive force (Albrecht, 2017). Even the overall stress of the job can cause an officer to become aggressive when in tense situations. According to Albrecht, if a police officer views a suspect as unsympathetic or hostile to their job, they may act brutally due to the stress. Therefore, mental health is a considerable cause of police brutality.
State and federal governments need to invest in police mental health. This should entail having a psychologist/mental coach in police stations to provide the police officers with the psychological help they need. The psychologist should also assess the officers’ mental health state to determine if they are fit to be on the streets. Notably, giving police officers time off from the streets to work through their mental health issues can prove worthwhile. The police psychologists can also provide counseling services aiming to address the needs of law enforcement; hence, mentally coaching the police officers to use only the necessary force required to restrain a suspect or control a situation.
To sum up, police brutality is a longstanding problem that needs to be addressed urgently and in a conclusive manner. The major causes of police brutality include inadequate training, an ineffective accountability process, and mental health issues. Implementing a framework geared toward addressing the three factors can help combat police brutality. The system should incorporate measures to improve police training programs, enhance the accountability processes, and invest in police officers’ mental health. The holistic approach will ensure smothering of the identified causes of police brutality; consequently promoting effective policing that upholds the law and due process.