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Excessive force by the police Qualitative Research Essay


Police are charged with the responsibility of safeguarding citizens and dealing with crime. In performing these duties, they are authorized to use the acceptable force within certain limits. The amount of force that a police officer is entitled to use depends on the situation and it varies greatly from one situation another.

However, law enforcers have abused this privilege due to lack of clear laws on the amount of force that an officer is entitled to use in a given situation.

Some officers have resorted to using excessive force even under unnecessary circumstances. Excessive force may take the form of physical assault, sexual assault, verbal abuse, or use of lethal force when dealing with suspects or the public at large. Police brutality is a contemporary worldwide issue as cases of savagery continue to arise despite the numerous laws governing the conduct of police officers.

Police use of force in the US

The laws governing the conduct of police officers in the United States are very clear. They give a police officer the right to use reasonable force when dealing with law aggressors, but at the same time they set limits in which such right is applicable. However, police officers tend to abuse this privilege by assaulting innocent citizens in the pretext of maintaining law and order.

A police officer who violates the rights of a citizen in any way is liable to pay for damages and injuries suffered. The local media in the US reports on many cases of public assault; however, most of these cases do not reach the international media and the perpetrators go unpunished (Ritchie & Mogul 2007). Presumably, in the United States, this malpractice is directed towards the minorities and it is very common amongst African Americans.

Police brutality in the US has a long history and it was first described in the New York Times in 1893 to describe acts of a police officer who had assaulted a member of the public (Troutt 1999). Even before the modern policing came into existence, there were cases of public harassment by the traditional patrol officers who used nightsticks and blackjacks. The highest cases of police misconduct were recorded during this period probably due to lack of formal laws governing their conduct (Troutt 1999).

With the introduction of the modern policing in the nineteenth century, cases of police brutality reduced slightly in the United States. The nineteenth century was characterized by many reforms in the police department. Several laws were enacted to protect the public from police assault and some police officers were charged in court for allegedly misusing their positions to cause suffering to civilians.

One of such reforms occurred in 1991 when a judge sentenced several officers to a jail term of 32 months each for assaulting an African- American in Los Angeles (Davis 1994). The sentence followed a video recording by a civilian as the police assaulted the man, which was then presented to the court. The news hit the international media and reached almost all parts of the world. Unfortunately, the efforts were not good enough to stop this vice.

In 1992, police officers killed more than 50 people while thousands of others were injured as they staged peaceful demonstrations on the streets of Los Angeles opposing the release of two of the four police officers charged for the murder of Rodney King (Medina 2012). Rodney King’s case prompted the formation of an independent commission referred to as ‘Christopher Commission’ to investigate the conduct of police officers across Los Angeles.

The commission executed its mandate and came up with recommendations, which were never implemented. The commission revealed acts of abuse and misconduct by police officers, which supported the case filed by Rodney King. On the other hand, the media reported on the severity of misconduct by police officers and cited the Blue code of silence as the key setback against the fight against police torture (Davis 1994).

The 19th century also saw the formation of district attorneys and other commissions that were mandated to carry out investigations regarding police brutality. The composition of these commissions was in question as the members were fellow police officers. Only a few commissions ran under the watch of civilians, but they depended on police officers in their investigations. These commissions’ operations were thus compromised and they only contributed less in the fight against police misconduct (Westmarland 2005).

Police harassment continued even after the formation of organizations opposing the vice. Demonstrators faced torture as they staged demonstrations in the streets. Use of tear gas and truncheons formed the order of the day. In 1967, during the Vietnam War, the police used tear gas and live bullets to disperse crowds gathered to demonstrate against the war (Villalobos 2011). Police brutality cases were surging over the past one decade.

Reports tabled by various researchers indicate that most cases go unreported due to public ignorance of the law and the lengthy process involved in filing such cases (Villalobos 2011). A study carried on a sample of about 12,500 people, 14% agreed to have faced torture from the police in the form of verbal and physical abuse, but only about 32 % of the cases were formally reported (Villalobos 2011).

This trend is a major setback to the fight against this fast-growing vice. Few documents on the cases of harassment caused by police exist. However, a report from the justice department in 2005 revealed that out of the 26,000 cases reported by citizens on the issue, more than 20,000 had merit (Villalobos 2011). This aspect implies that the police continue to assault civilians even in this modern era, which is characterized by various reforms in the police department.

Statistics from the US Justice Department released in 2002 indicated that in the year 2000 alone, more than 422,000 people of 18 years and above faced police torture or threat thereof (Villalobos 2011).

This number is high in such a developed country. Another report tabled by the Amnesty International in 2006, indicated that in prisons too, police brutality was a common scene as the use of un-muzzled dogs in police cells was a norm (Villalobos 2011). The prisoners were tortured in a bid to force then accept charges for crimes that they had not committed.


Investigations about police tortures are done under the watch of the internal police. Considering the existence of the Blue code of silence, which prevents an officer from exposing the wrongs done by a fellow officer, it is clear that the independence of the investigating committee will be compromised, thus leading to a decision favoring the accused officers (Westmarland 2005).

Most decisions so far made by the committees are in favor of the accused officers, and thus a majority of them goes unpunished. A study of the Chicago police on cases of police brutality in 2007 showed that out of more than 10000 police harassments cases reported, only 18% resulted in an action (Villalobos 2011). The study also alleges that the accused officers continue to serve even as the investigation continues.

It also reveals that out of the largest police departments, only 17% have a committee of investigation by civilians (Villalobos 2011). These civilian ran committees have earned public confidence and most victims of torture prefer reporting their cases to these committees as opposed to those ran by the police themselves. Judgments delivered by the committee by the civilians were considered unbiased as opposed to those delivered by the police committee.


Conventionally, excessive use of force by the American police is directed against African Americans and other minority groups. About 80% of all cases involving police using excessive force on the public involve black Americans (Ritchie & Mogul 2007). Racial discrimination is thus correlated with the key causes of this vice. Reportedly, between 1990 and 1994 alone, more than 450 African Americans died after being tortured by the police (Ritchie & Mogul 2007).

A study carried out in the United States in 1999 revealed that police are more likely to arrest Africans as compared to the Americans. Therefore, it is evident that ethnicity is the key cause of brutality in the country (Ritchie & Mogul 2007). However, cases of police brutality arising out of racial discrimination are decreasing following the rise of human rights groups that protect the civilians’ rights. A good example of such a group is the Amnesty International, which was founded in 1962 with over two million members all over the world.

The enactment of the prohibition Act of 1969, which staged war on drugs, also contributed to the rise of brutality cases as it gave police officers the power to conduct a search on any civilian suspected to be involved in drug trafficking (Westmarland 2005). Police misused this right to harass innocent citizens in the name of conducting searches.

The other cause of police deviance in the United States is lack of clear laws defining the maxims of ‘reasonable force’ (Westmarland 2005). Police will thus use excessive force even where it is not needed in the name of self-defense. The existence of various doctrines and separation of power are other factors that drive police into this misconduct. For example, there is a provision in the American constitution barring the prosecutor from investigating vigorously misconduct by a police officer (Westmarland 2005).

Others include poor police training, religious differences, and political differences. In addition, the provision of the law that places the burden of proof on the plaintiff serves as a contributing factor as well. It is thus difficult for the affected to win a case against a police officer who in the course of his or her training earns some knowledge on the country’s laws.

Cases to support police brutality against minorities

Various incidents support police brutality against the minorities in the United States. One such incident involved a 23-year-old Africa American, Oscar Grant III, who was reported to having been murdered by a police officer in California in the year 2009 (Gahary 2013). In their defense, the police alleged that the man resisted arrest, which forced them to open fire, thus killing him on the spot. The man is said to be unarmed and even the video tapes recorded by the bystanders revealed this view.

This was not the first time that Garner faced harassment from the police, as in 2008, a police officer had knocked him several times on the head leaving him unconscious. The victim died later in 2009, but the impeached officer entered a non-guilty plea and only condemned for 2 years in jail. This case is just an example of how police officers escape charges leveled against them by the minorities.

The other incident believed to be fueled by racial discrimination involved Abner Louima, an immigrant from Haiti. The man allegedly protested against his arrest but the police abused him in the process on enforcing the arrest. In the station, the man was tortured and the officers took him to the bathroom, unclothed him, inserted blunt objects into his small intestine, and dismantled his dental formula as he tried to scream for help (Gahary 2013).

According to eyewitnesses, the man had no injury when the police arrested him, but after being manhandled by the officers, he had to be admitted in the hospital for surgery (Bennett & Livingston 2003). However, the accusations were shelved and the officers involved were charged with first class assault and sexual abuse and were to serve long jail terms.

The third example involves yet another African American, Patrick Hall. The man served in the US military force until his retirement in 2007. After his retirement, he joined the university to further his studies as he operated a hotel business at the city of Macomb.

In the hotel, he employed more blacks than whites. This move raised eyebrows and the police raided the hotel premises severally claiming that the retired officer conducted some illegal activities. In their searches, police would subject Hall to all forms of torture and intimidation (Gahary 2013).

This went on for a long period and made the running of the business very difficult. His civil rights were infringed and it became evident that not only the police were against him, but also other authorities since when he tried to file a suit against this humiliation, it was opposed and he was forced to close down his business and leave the city to seek refuge elsewhere.

The 19th century, specifically the period between 1962 and 1964, saw the rise of various organizations that worked as sympathizers of minorities in the US. In addition, some leaders like Martin Luther King came out strongly to condemn police aberrancies with the strongest words possible.

During the same period, the blacks living in the US formed the Black Panther Party to defend their rights. This party became the most vigorous movement and it engaged police in several tussles resulting in the deaths of more than 30 civilians and about 15 police officers in 1963 (Gahary 2013).

Police brutality in other countries

Police brutality is not just an American problem, but it cuts across the world nations. It is even severe in the developing countries where dictatorship form of governance still exists. Police in these countries use force without facing the law as even the leaders support such brutality.

In most developing countries, there exists no separation of power between the judiciary and the executive, thus the executive is in a position to influence the outcome of a suit filed against its law enforcers even where enough evidence is available. This aspect together with other factors drives the police department into exploiting the citizens.

A report released by Amnesty International showed that countries with authoritarian regimes are the most affected by this problem. Their cases are similar to that of the US as colleague officers carry out investigations, and thus there is a tendency of the cases favoring the accused at the expense of the victim of torture (Bennett & Livingston 2003).

For example, in the UK, a police officer reportedly murdered a New Zealand teacher in 2010, but the investigating committee set by the government to probe into the matter favored the law enforcer (Segan 2013).

In their report, they claimed that it was impossible to identify the actual killer as the other police officers refused to give the necessary information that could lead to the identification of the suspect. This incidence is not the only case involving police brutality in the UK. In 2009, the media reported on a man who received beatings from the police.

Allegedly, police officers hit him with a blunt object in the forehead before beating him to death. The officer connected to the demise of the victim was immediately arrested and charged with manslaughter, but was he later released unconditionally despite the evidence of a video clip taken by a bystander (Segan 2013). This aspect poses the question on when this deviation by the police will end.

Police cruelty is also common in Serbia. In this country, most severe cases involving public mistreatments by the police have been recorded as the citizens demonstrated against the leadership of the then President and subsequent governments (Segan 2013). During this period, huge numbers of deaths were reported with many other citizens sustaining serious injuries in the hands of the police. In July 2010, a film taken by journalists showed police publicly assaulting five demonstrators.

The five were arrested, chained, and then taken to the police cells where they were subjected to serious beatings for over an hour. In an interview with the media, the then internal security minister denied these allegations terming them as exaggerations by the media aimed at tarnishing the reputation of the police force (Segan 2013). This realization is a clear indication that police liaise with leaders to deprive citizens of their rights, by giving the law enforcers the right to do anything without being held accountable.

In India, police brutality cases were higher in the 19th century as compared to the contemporary times. In 1930, police ordered a truck driver to run on Babu Genu, an Indian citizen, who worked at a cotton factory (Bennett & Livingston 2003). The reason behind the killing was that the man was a leader of a group of demonstrators opposing the importation of clothes. In 1983, police killed a suspect of drug trafficking in Mumbai in yet another incident of brutality (Bennett & Livingston 2003).

The suspect neither had weapons at the time of the killing nor the drugs he was being accused of peddling. Additionally, the police never gave the suspect a chance to surrender or even defend himself as required by law. They opened fire and sprayed more than 50 bullets to the man, thus killing him on the spot (Bennett & Livingston 2003).

The most recent case involving police brutality in the country occurred in January 2014. A video clip posted on the police website by a strong political party in India concerning the incidence showed police officers harassing a person to the extent of stealing from him (Segan 2013).

Finland is another country with a history of police misconduct. The situation was fueled by the supremacy battle between capitalists and communists that was evident in the 1920s. From time to time, police engaged communists in tussles as communists staged demonstrations opposing the capitalists’ leadership.

Inadequacy of police officers and lack of equipments are other factors that cause police to use force in their duties. In recent cases, police have been videotaped harassing civilians in the country. In 2006, a police officer was charged in connection with seducing an underage girl and subsequently raping her (Balko 2012).

This incidence is not the only case illustrating police brutality in Finland. In 2007, an immigrant from Iran was arrested and tortured by police in Pasila city. The victim suffered several fractures as police beat him to accept false charges leveled against him. Ironically, the officer responsible for the beating was only sentenced to 80 days of job suspension (Balko 2012).

The same police brutality issues are common in Indonesia. As opposed to other countries, in Indonesia the problem is fueled by religious differences. Muslims living in the country are seen as criminals, and thus are the most targeted by the law enforcers. A suspect from Muslim religion, if arrested, is killed on the spot (Campbell, Chidester, and Bell & Royer 2004).

Police brutalities directed to journalists involved in the coverage of these events have also been reported. In 2012, police beat a journalist for attempting to take a video as they tortured a civilian. In the same year, police officers opened fire on Muslim demonstrators killing five people and injuring several others (Balko 2012). Indonesia lacks an independent body to handle complaints of police misconduct, thus most officers escape without facing the law.

Egypt is another good example of countries that police brutality is common. Allegedly, the number of police officers is inadequate to control the ever-rising population, which is one of the reasons why the police officers have resulted in using force to contain criminal acts.

However, this assertion is only an excuse to divert the attention of the international community from demanding an explanation to some of these matters. The most memorable incident involving police misconduct in the country occurred in 2011 when citizens took to the streets pushing for police reforms. The demonstrators engaged police in running battles for over an hour until the officers opened fire killing hundreds of them and injuring many others.


Police brutality is a major problem facing almost every country in the world. Cases involving police misconduct are on the increase despite efforts by various human rights activists to curb the situation. There has been reluctance by some nations in adopting universal human rights standards that will be applicable in all countries worldwide.

For example, the United States and Somalia have downplayed regional and international treaties brought forth in an effort to terminate this problem. Clear laws governing the conduct of police ought to be adopted and applied in each country across the world. In addition, there should be well-defined penalties for officers found guilty of mistreating members of the public.

Reference List

Balko, R. 2012, ‘Why are there no good data on police use of force’, Huffington Post, Nov. 12. Web.

Bennett, W. & Livingston, S. 2003, ‘Editors’ Introduction: A semi-independent press: government control and journalistic autonomy in the political construction of news’, Political Communication, vol.20 no.4, pp. 359-362.

Campbell, S., Chidester, P., Bell, J. & Royer, J. 2004, ‘Remote control: How mass media delegitimize rioting as social protest’, Race, Gender & Class, vol. 11 no. 1, pp.158-176.

Davis, P. 1994, ‘Rodney King and the decriminalization of police brutality in America: direct and judicial access to the grand jury as remedies for victims of police brutality when the prosecutor declines to prosecute’, Maryland Law Review, vol.53 no.2, pp. 271 – 357.

Gahary, D. 2013, Police brutality a common occurrence across America. Web.

Medina, J. 2012, ‘In years since the riots, a changed complexion in South Central’, The New York Times, April 24, p. 46.

Ritchie, A. & Mogul, L. 2007, In the shadows of the war on terror: persistent police brutality and abuse of people of color in the United States. Web.

Segan, S. 2013, ‘What is excessive force’, ABC News. Web.

Troutt, D. 1999, ‘Screws, Koon, and routine aberrations: The use of fictional narratives in federal police brutality prosecutions’, NYU Law Review, vol. 74 no.1, pp. 18 -122.

Villalobos, J. 2011, ‘Promises and human rights: The Obama Administration on immigrant detention policy reform’. Race, Gender & Class, vol. 18 no.2, pp.151-170.

Westmarland, L. 2005, ‘Police ethics and integrity: Breaking the blue code of silence’, Policing and Society, vol. 15 no.2, pp.145-165.

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