The following paper analyzes the issue of excessive use of force by the police officers in an attempt to find the theoretical explanation of this phenomenon. Reviewing scholarly literature and real-life cases, the writing analyzes the most typical cases of police officers’ involvement in the practice of unreasonable brutality and use of force. As a result, the analysis identified the four key reasons for the officers to practice the described form of professional misconduct. These reasons have social, psychological and organizational roots, including the prejudice and bias toward the citizens of African American and Hispanic ethnicity, high levels of job-related stress and burnout, absence of real-time supervision and traditionally aggressive workplace culture. Thus, police officers tend to be racially biased when producing decisions regarding the application of force. Moreover, the officers suffering from job-related psychological issues are unable to justify the reasonability of the force application. Similarly, the absence of supervision makes some of the officers feel free from moral responsibility, which is why they practice brutality. Finally, the culture of the police setting is overall associated with the practice of violence and cynicism, which is why police officers are likely to follow its guidelines. In order to prevent the excessive use of force among the police officers, it is advised to establish an adequate code of corporate conduct associated with specific values of professional excellence. One of the examples of such values is the goal of becoming a morally responsible leader by means of education as well as development of skills and character established by the Saint Leo University.
The police are one of the forces engaged in the process of legal control of peace and adherence to the federal, state and local laws in the developed society. Traditionally, the performance of the duty of a policeman or a policewoman is associated with loyalty, high perception of moral obligations and respect to the laws and the citizens. Such beliefs in the society are possible because of the successful functions of the police in terms of the protection of people and the state from diverse crimes. However, the activity of the police has a dark side, which has recently attracted attention and the critique of the public. This dark side refers to the cases of the excessive use of force by the officers that leads to negative outcomes ranging from the moral and physical trauma of an assaulted individual to his or her death. This is why it is critical to analyze the theoretical motivations of the use of excessive force by the police officers in order to develop the strategies for its prevention and control.
The analysis of the issue demonstrates that the most typical reasons for the police officers to apply excessive force to the citizens include accumulated psychological stress and professional burnout, racial prejudice, absence of control as well as weak professional and ethical training. This knowledge should be taken into account by police departments and educational institutions, who should improve their training and educational courses with the special focus on prevention of brutality and irrelevant application of force. These initiatives should adhere to a specific code of excellence such as the one at the Saint Leo University, which is directed toward the development of professional character, skill and ethical awareness for becoming morally responsible leaders.
The Police and the Use of Force
The police play a unique role in the society and the state system overall as they are agents who maintain peace and justice as well as prevent criminal acts and violation of diverse laws. Along with the armed forces, police officers are individuals who can legally bear and apply arms and other means of force in the case of a critical situation. One of the most typical situations is the prevention of a theft, physical assault, burglary, rape, murder, drug distribution and other illegal and immoral acts. In the appropriate circumstances, which are defined by legal and ethical laws and professional standards, a policeman or policewoman may apply coercive force to stop a criminal or protect citizens or their property.
The applied force is diverse and ranges from pushing or hitting an individual in order to get his or her attention to the use of a weapon that leads to the death of a suspect. In addition, there are other means of force application including gripping an arm or holding a person, the use of chemical agents or hitting with a baton. Due to the complex cause-consecutive connection between the conduct of the suspect and the application of force by the police, the officers undergo advanced professional training in order to prevent the cases of its unreasonable application. This training includes theoretical and practical preparation as well as specific moral education. Nevertheless, the cases of police brutality and the use of excessive force occur disregarding education and training initiatives, which is why this issue requires a revision to discover the theoretical grounds of these illegal and immoral acts.
The application of force by a police officer is recognized as excessive when he or she exceeds the reasonable amount of force during the arrest of an individual or performs an impulsive preventive or reactive response. The best examples that manifest the issue are the cases of Ferguson and Baltimore during which police officers unreasonably shot to death the unarmed citizens of an African American ethnicity (Wolfe & Nix, 2016). Deadly police shootings of this type have rapidly become the subjects of close attention and the public’s concern. They are heavily criticized producing different negative social effects. One of them is the negative publicity surrounding the profession of a police officer, whereas others, such as the Ferguson Effect, are graver as they manifest a sharp increase of crime acts (Wolfe & Nix, 2016). Another critical issue is that the cases of the excessive use of force are present not only in the US community, which signifies that this problem has deep and comprehensive roots. For example, media critique and public protests occurred in England after the police killed Mark Duggan. Such actions also took place in Australia after the death of Mulrunji Doomadgee while being in police custody (Wolfe & Nix, 2016). Therefore, a theoretical explanation of the reasons for police brutality and excessive use of force would significantly assist the development of an education and training guidelines directed toward prevention of the issue.
The Theoretical Motivations for Use of Excessive Force
The analysis of the causes of the excessive use of force by police officers allows highlighting several factors that contribute to the development of the issue including racial prejudice, psychological stress and professional burnout, the absence of control and irrelevant ethical and professional training that leads to negligence. Each of these causes requires specific attention as they may evolve as a single issue or intertwine producing an increased adverse effect on the public security and welfare.
The analysis of the real-life evidence related to the excessive use of force by the police leads some scholars toward a hypothesis that the issue is strongly associated with racial causes such as prejudice toward African Americans. For instance, Wolfe and Nix (2016) argue that the police tend to demonstrate the complicated relationship with the representatives of African American community in the US. Possibly, this prejudice is based on the infamous criminality of African American street gangs and separate criminal individuals in different districts and cities such as “Queens” in New York. Other scholars indicate that the citizens of Hispanic ethnicity share this prejudice with African Americans having the same probability of becoming a victim of an excessive use of force by a police officer in more than 50% of the cases (Fryer, 2016). As a result, it is concluded that the police officers represent a profession of utility maximizers “a fraction of which have a preference for discrimination” (Fryer, 2016, p. 1). The reason for this is that in real life the officers are more likely to engage in brutal or inappropriate conduct with an African American or a Hispanic citizen even if he or she is unarmed and follows the instructions.
Due to the fact that the police officers are more likely to attack people of African American and Hispanic ethnicity, there is a presence of racial prejudice among them that requires mitigation during the phases of professional training and education. Nowadays, it is possible to collect the evidence that approves the presence of the problem due to the evidence presented by the records of body cameras as well as street and other cameras (Fryer, 2016). As a result, the collected evidence demonstrates that, in many cases, the application of the excessive use of force toward a racially discriminated population group is recognized by officers as an investment in compliant behavior (Fryer, 2016). Therefore, police officers tend to be prejudiced against people of African American and Hispanic ethnicity potentially viewing them as more dangerous than individuals of other ethnicities. This is why the educational guidelines and the code of compliance and conduct at police departments require an update for removing a racial bias in the police officers.
Job-related Stress and Professional Burnout
Furthermore, there is evidence that specific groups of police officers tend to excessively use their force against different citizens as a result of accumulated job-related stress and progressing professional burnout. These complex psychic processes degrade an officer’s ability for critical thinking and evaluation, which is why he or she perceives the use of force as a rapid solution to an emerged problem. In this regard, there is a group of scholars, who claim that psychic stress and burnout contribute to the statistic of police brutality and excessive use of force more than socio-demographic characteristics (Queir?s, Kaiseler, & Da Silva, 2013). Officers, who suffer from depersonalization, accumulated stress and low perception of individual achievements are at the active phase of professional burnout that decreases their psychic stability. In this regard, professional burnout increases the aggressiveness of an average police officer from 13% to 22% (Queir?s, Kaiseler, & Da Silva, 2013). As a result, these individuals have a tendency of manifesting diverse aggressive behavior ranging from verbal aggression to unreasonable application of force and brutality.
The analysis of real-life incidents associated with professional burnout of police officers approves that their mental status prevents them from making weighted judgments regarding the reasonability of force application. For example, an off-duty police officer in Los Angeles attacked a teenaged boy and fired his weapon after the boy’s friends attempted to prevent the situation (Urbanski, 2017). As the video was recorded on a cell phone of a victim’s friend, the public discovered that the officer attacked a boy suspecting a battery, which was not approved, and the officer was placed on administrative leave (Urbanski, 2017). The reason for characterizing the response of the police officer as excessive is that he was off-duty while the boy threatened him with a toy pistol. Thus, the teenager’s joke was mistakenly characterized as an attempt of battery and assault. Consequently, it is critical for the police officers to undergo initiatives that reduce the level of professional stress and burnout in order to produce relevant and reasonable judgments.
Absence of Control
The next theoretical presumption associated with the problem of excessive use of force by the police is that the officers lack control when being on duty. As a result, having no direct supervision some of the officers tend to exceed the limits of force, which leads to adverse public consequences. Moreover, the officers engaged in professional misdemeanor of this type are unlikely to report these incidents, which is why it is difficult to prove the cases of brutality or aggression (Ariel, Farrar, & Sutherland, 2015). In this respect, experts state that the police officers are less likely to use excessive force against criminals but tend to apply it to ordinary civilians (Ariel, Farrar, & Sutherland, 2015). In this regard, scholars review the potential of body-worn cameras to decrease the cases of police brutality and excessive use of force.
The core idea behind the use of body-worn cameras by the police officers is their potential for the reduction of the ratio of irrelevant conduct and excessive application of force. In addition, the data provided by such cameras is believed to support the statistic of complaints from the citizens, which is often hard to elicit. However, the results of the scholarship findings are surprising as the installation of body-worn cameras did not produce any significant effect on the ratio of excessive use of force by police officers (Ariel et al., 2016). Instead, the presence of these cameras is associated with the increase of assaults against the officers (Ariel et al., 2016). That is why this issue requires revision. In this regard, there is a potential to use hidden body-worn cameras or sound recorders for keeping the actions of an officer tracked together with maintaining his or her safety.
Irrelevant Ethical and Professional Training
The final aspect that requires close attention is weak ethical and professional training of police officers, who tend to apply the excessive use of force due to the absence of loyalty, strong moral responsibility, and ethical leadership. In this regard, scholars state that some of the police officers derive psychic pleasure from using force against the citizens, which is also associated with the absence of moral restrictions (Fryer, 2016). The reason for this is that an officer with strong moral responsibility and advanced ethical leadership skills would restrain the attempts of deriving psychic pleasure from using excessive force. In this regard, the occupation of police officers is associated with the setting where a specific violence culture has been cultivated for decades (Terpstra & Schaap, 2013). As a consequence, the majority of the officers characterize the use of force and violent conduct as normal similarly as mistrust of outsiders and cynicism (Terpstra & Schaap, 2013). Thus, police offices and educational establishments require revision of their codes of conduct and organizational culture.
A reasonable solution for mitigating the problem of excessive use of force by the police is the establishment of adequate vision and mission statements together with the code of compliance. The proposed code of conduct should be focused on the core value of excellence such as the one at the Saint Leo University. The benefit of this core value is that it has a special accent on the development of the qualities of morally responsible leaders. Focusing on the development of skills, knowledge, and character, this value of excellence allows directing the students toward their goal of becoming professionals, which is why it may be advised as a part of the compliance code in all institutions that train or educate police officers.
Summarizing the presented information, the paper arrives at a conclusion that the cases of excessive use of force by police are associated with specific sociological, psychological and organizational issues. Thus, it was revealed that the police officers tend to be prejudiced against individuals of African American and Hispanic ethnicity, and their bias leads to the excessive application of force against such citizens. Furthermore, the accumulation of job-related stress and progression of a professional burnout impairs the judgment of a police officer preventing him or her from the adequate application of force. Similarly, the lack of public control and supervision of the actions of an officer is another issue, which increases the probability of the excessive use of force against the citizens. The last theoretical cause for the excessive use of force is irrelevant training that does not establish a valid ethical framework and supports the deeply rooted culture of negligence. The analysis suggests that it is possible to mitigate the problem by training police officers when adhering to specific codes of excellence as the one established at the Saint Leo University.