Use of Force by Police – A Personal View
The use of force, i.e., when force should be used and in what manner, by law enforcement is constantly an issue for debate. With that, explain your view on the use of force by police. As part of the response give a situation (real or hypothetical) that illustrates your view.
Sample Answer 1
Late in 1974 this student was the recipient of considerable criticism by his new peers and immediate supervisor for an incident where lethal force was not deployed by the author. He was
a recent police academy graduate and only beginning to be enculturated into the police culture, working the midnight shift for a sheriff’s department that served the large unincorporated metropolitan area surrounding a city in Arizona.
I was first to arrive at a reported domestic violence event in a mobile home park known for repeated violent disturbances. Upon arriving and walking the thirty or so yards to the mobile home where loud yelling could be heard, I was confronted by a young man of about fifteen years of age holding a large kitchen knife who began moving toward me in an aggressive and clearly threatening manner. I was then a twenty two year old officer with less than a month of solo duty after my final phase of supervised field training. With revolver drawn the officer retreated backwards and attempted to verbally interact with the young man. After about ten seconds, he stopped his forward movement, dropped the knife, and began crying hysterically. He was taken into custody without any resistance. The emotional event had to do with the young man’s intoxicated father physically abusing his mother and the young man cutting the father in front of the mobile home just as this officer was arriving at the scene. This was before the advent of portable radios and department policy dictated solo response to intercede prior to the often long time frame of any back-up officer.
The young man was emotionally over stimulated and irrational. Nobody died. But the prevailing peer review was that the rookie cop should have held his ground and shot the young man. I have never regretted my decision that night, but I have second guessed it and analyzed it over and over. I could have tripped while retreating backwards. The young man could have suddenly accelerated and attacked with the large knife causing significant injury even before I might have made appropriate target acquisition and fired. There are a lot of maybe’s and could haves but again, nobody died and if we use teleological ethics to analyze the circumstance and look at the outcome or consequences (Peak, Stitt, and Glensor 1998, 21), it would appear everybody came out of it intact and with the appropriate end result or all’s well that ends well.
At those precise few moments of tension however, the young man’s action viewed from within the system of deontological ethics (Peak, et. al. 1998, 21) would judge him harshly as his temporary intent was to harm anyone perceived as a threat. He should have been shot to prevent potential harm. Ten seconds changed the nature of both the intent and the ultimate outcome.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police report that of 40 million police contacts only 776,000 or 1.95 reported actual use of police force or the perceived threat of a use of force (IACP. 2008, 7). This figure is far smaller than the public perception as created by popular media and art forms. However when the public can witness apparent police abuse of their authority. As in the case of the Rodney King incident (LAPD, 2012) to use force in the course of their mission it creates a state of both fear and mistrust of police.
I believe strongly with the National Institute of Justice’s simple and succinct model policy (NIJ, 2012) where they state “Police officers should use only the amount of force necessary to control an incident, effect an arrest, or protect themselves or others from harm or death.” That said the word necessary is open to considerable interpretation as indicated in my personal experience so many years ago. Additionally, it is subject to variable of perception such as vantage point of observation, knowledge or information known by the applicator of force and perhaps not to the observer, past experience, and cultural influences as to what is considered normative or appropriate. Those from my own peer group who arrived in time to observe from the safe vantage point of their patrol cars had a perception that I under reacted. Had I used my weapon I believe the kid’s family would have had a different perception of the incident regardless of any legal outcome.
Sample Answer 2
The use of force is always at the center of the stage when it come to the civil rights of people. It is always easy to point out the faults of the officer when you don’t have the whole story and you can look at it from the safety of your home or from behind your desk. Now you take those people from their safe areas and put them in the same scenario and then the ideas turn and they now realize what we realize, IF I DON’T GET THIS UNDER CONTROL I COULD BE KILLED!
Granted with common sense, there are those who use excessive force and do things that tarnish the badge, but on the most part it was the fear of the unknown and the thought of death that caused them to exceed what should have been done. I know this because I have been there as I am sure many have.
My own personal short story; I was a new deputy working the night shift alone in a single man car. I was dispatched to man abusing the 911 calling system. I arrived on scene, at which time he started to walk away. I made contact with him and in my investigation had probable cause to arrest the subject. The subject was taller and had 70 pounds on me, I weighed 150 at the time. The subject was cooperative until I placed him against the wall to pat him down. He pushed off and turned to kick me in the face and did just that, laying my face wide open. With blood running into my eyes and mouth I instinctively grabbed for him, I was a state runner up wrestler as this all comes into play later, I then locked him up and started to punch him. Mind the fact I can’t see, I continued to punch him, 3 times total, until he went to the ground and I was able to handcuff him. My back up arrived several minutes later and they assisted him into the back of the car. During that time the other deputy stated we need to get him to the hospital as he had lost his eye due to my hitting him.
I know there are you out there already questioning my actions or criticizing me on what occurred, but I tell you the only thing in my mind at the time was I will not die like this and I went into an adrenaline rage to do what I need to win. I had no malice towards this man and would never wish to inflict that kind of damage, but I was not going to die either.
Needless to say by the act of his family, who was not there, I went through an Internal Investigation, had to go to court and was sued for my excessive use of force on this poor innocent man.
Luckily for me the man was an honest one, but he had been a corrections officer for several years and had been fired for killing an inmate. He had admitted to abusing the 911 system as well as the methamphetamine he had, but what shocked most of the people was the fact he stated he did not think I could handle myself and he was going to kill me. Years ago he was arrested by deputies for his part in the killing of an inmate years ago. He stated he felt betrayed and wanted to get back at us, police as a whole. The charges were dropped against me at that time, but only because he was honest and he felt he needed to redeem himself as the people were convicting me without knowing all of the details, I guess just as they may have done with him.
As officers we enforce social order through the legitimized use of force. The use of force describes the amount of effort required by police to compel compliance by an unwilling subject. Every officer knows this because we have to read it all the time and we are asked it constantly in court. As per the policies of most agencies the levels of force police use include basic verbal and physical restraint, less-lethal force and lethal force. Police officers should use only the amount of force necessary to control an incident, effect an arrest, or protect themselves or others from harm or death. Most officers receive guidance or policies from their individual agencies, but I have yet to see a universal set of rules to govern when officers can use force and how much.
The level of force an officer uses will vary based on the situation, which are based on many factors that are occurring in seconds as it unfolds. With that said I am very apprehensive in throwing judgment until I know the whole story. Granted there are instances of excessive force that are not justified, as in the video, and
those officers need to be dealt with and removed from the profession, but I feel everything needs to be known before inflicting punishment.