How many times have you seen stories on the news about police officers being caught on tape while abusing their power? How often do you hear about police brutality cases where the officer is not punished? Chances are, it’s pretty often. These stories have been prominently featured in the news as of late. It seems that every few days there’s yet another instance of a police officer overstepping their bounds. The police brutality statistics are staggering. This article will explore the issue of police brutality and give you a better understanding of the issue.
What is Police Brutality?
The legal term that is usually used to describe police brutality is police misconduct. Police misconduct occurs when a police officer acts in a way that is unlawful when carrying out their duties. There are several types of police misconduct.
- Excessive force
- False imprisonment
Excessive force is probably the most well-known form of police misconduct. Excessive force occurs when an officer uses more force than is necessary to apprehend a suspect. It also applies if the officer uses an amount of force that is not proportional to the crime that has occurred.
False imprisonment occurs when an officer restrains the free movement of the victim without probable cause. If an officer is going to detain a person, they must have enough evidence to reasonably conclude that the person committed a crime. If an officer restrains someone when they have probable cause, they are not guilty of false imprisonment even if it is found that the person did not commit the crime.
Why Does it Happen?
There are numerous potential reasons why police abuse occurs. The main two reasons have to do with the ways in which police officers justify their actions and the lack of accountability. It is only by addressing these two factors that police brutality can be reduced.
The Psychology of Police Brutality
One enduring myth about police officers that engage in misconduct is that they joined the police force as a way of using their power to harm others. The police department simply did not adequately screen these officers.
This is not true. Most police officers, when they first enter the police force are people who believe in a strong code of ethics. They become police officers because they have a genuine desire to protect and serve.
Psychology teaches us that when a person behaves in a way that conflicts with their attitudes, beliefs, and values, they experience what is known as cognitive dissonance. In most cases, these officers do not engage in brutal behavior until they are able to somehow justify such actions in a way that does not conflict with their internal ethics. When it comes to violence, there are several ways this justification can occur:
Victim of Circumstance
When an officer claims they are victims of circumstance, they are convincing themselves that they had no other choice but to use excessive force. Their excuse could be peer pressure, pressure from a supervisor, or the fact that “everyone else does it.”
Advantageous comparison occurs when an officer defends his actions by comparing it to that of another colleague. If the officer knows of other officers who have done much worse when it comes to excessive violence, they may justify their actions by telling themselves that their own actions aren’t as bad as the others. After all, if the other officers beat their suspects all the time, why would it be so bad to do it just this once?
An officer who uses this type of justification will argue that breaking rules can be a necessity in certain situations. Basically, they convince themselves that sometimes the “ends justify the means.” Sure, the officer may have paralyzed their suspect, but at least that will keep them from dealing drugs in the future. This type of justification can be especially dangerous because it can result in glorifying these types of behaviors.
Blaming the Victim
One of the most common justifications an officer will use is convincing themselves that the victim brought the punishment on themselves. If an officer viciously beats a suspected thief, they may tell themselves that the victim deserved the punishment. “If they didn’t want this to happen, they shouldn’t have stolen that money.”
They assume that when one commits a crime, they relinquish their rights. This is also very dangerous because not only does it allow the officer to justify their actions, it can also make them feel good about doing it in the first place. This makes it more likely that they will continue to brutalize their victims.
Dehumanizing the Victim
When an officer dehumanizes their victim, it helps them to avoid feelings of guilt when it comes to using violence. This is also something that is done in war. Convincing yourself that the object of your actions is less than human will make you feel better about hurting them. When using this method of justification, an officer may assign different names to their victims. They may use terms like “scum” or ” trash.”
Lack of Accountability
Another contributing factor to the increase in police brutality cases is a marked lack of accountability. Police officers who engage in misconduct are routinely given a pass and are not held accountable for their violent behavior. There are many examples of this happening.
Nationwide, one out of three police officers that are accused of brutality are convicted. Only 64% of these officers ever get a prison sentence. Of the officers that are convicted and sent to prison, the sentence is only 14 months on average. In New Jersey, 99% of complaints of police brutality are never even investigated. This provides an environment that makes it much easier for police to abuse their power. It contributes to a culture that makes it okay for the police to use excessive violence.
When discussing the issue of police brutality, the issue of race cannot be avoided. It is abundantly clear that the victims of police abuse are predominantly minorities. There are several factors that prove this. When it comes to minorities, the legal system has been biased against them.
One example of this has occurred in the city of Miami Gardens, Florida. A news investigation showed that the city’s “stop and frisk” policy disproportionately targeted black men. As a matter of fact, one officer said that his supervisor ordered officers under him to stop and search all black men between the ages of 15 and 35.
In one case, a man was stopped 258 times in the time span of four years. He was even arrested 62 times without a conviction. Since the issue was never addressed, police continued to engage in this behavior.
Another staggering statistic comes from the FBI. They reported that between 2005 and 2012, a black person was the victim of police brutality from a white officer about two times per week.
There are several other statistics that point to the fact that racism is clearly a motivating factor in many cases of police brutality. Again, this is typically because police are not held accountable for their actions.
What is the Impact of Policy Brutality?
The impact of police brutality has been profound. It has done considerable damage to our country. It has heightened racial tensions, created a culture of fear in certain cities, and it has become increasingly prevalent due to the lack of accountability.
Impact on the Individual
Victims of police brutality suffer both physically and mentally. In many cases, police brutality can have fatal consequences. In several cases, victims of police brutality have suffered broken bones, brain damage, and even disablement because of their injuries.
These victims also suffer from post traumatic stress disorder. This can result in depression, substance abuse, panic attacks, and other psychological disorders. These symptoms can cause long-lasting damage to the victim. This can be even more pronounced because of the fact that these victims rarely receive justice. In many cases it can also negatively affect the families of the victims as well.
Impact on Society
Police brutality also has a pernicious impact on the community and society as a whole. Since police brutality typically impacts minorities more than whites, it exacerbates racial tensions. This can result in violent conflicts between citizens and the police. It’s especially true in cases where the offending police officer is not punished for their actions.
This can easily be seen in the recent Ferguson case where an unarmed black man was gunned down by a white police officer. Another example is the Rodney King case and the LA Riots that happened as a result.
It also creates a culture of fear and mistrust between minorities and police. It makes it less likely that people will be willing to call on the police when a real crime is being committed. One other consequence can be heightened violence against police officers.
All in all, police brutality is a serious problem in America. If this issue is not dealt with now, it will only grow worse. Failing to properly train police officers and hold them accountable for their actions will only embolden them to continue these behaviors.
The good news is that the first step toward preventing police brutality is well-documented and fairly simple: Keep police constantly on camera. A 2012 study in Rialto, Calif. found that when officers were required to wear cameras recording all their interactions with citizens, “public complaints against officers plunged 88% compared with the previous 12 months. Officers’ use of force fell by 60%.” The simple knowledge that they were being watched dramatically altered police behavior.