Free Custom «Use of Excessive Force by Police Officers» Sample Essay

«Use of Excessive Force by Police Officers»


In contemporary society, most people expect the law enforcement bodies to perform their functions in the professional manner. The police force is trusted with the duty of protecting the order. Thus, they should serve and maintain a state’s peace by enforcing the adopted laws. Consequently, the authority grants the police to accomplish their mandated tasks according to the rules and regulations that outline the degree of force exercisable. In many countries, the police are authorized to psychological and physical acts to apprehend criminals and tackle crimes and maintain harmony in the society. However, police have received a momentous amount of public examination over matters of fraud, injustice, unprofessionalism as well as use of excessive force. The police often become the most misunderstood powers by the state officials (Malmin, 2015).

Three fundamental questions concern the police’s use of extrajudicial powers. First, why are the cops engaging in abusive behaviors against the civilians despite their role to enhance public safety? (Amnesty International, 2015). Second, why are the weak individuals in the society more prone to police victimization? Third, how do the macro and micro factors contribute to police behavior? Thus, the paper seeks to contribute more to the theories on the topic of brutality among policemen to improve the understanding of the complicated procedures of police conduct.

Social Conflict Theory and Police Use of Force

According to the social theorists, a nation functions by the influence of the dominant class. The dominant classes are the moneyed elite of the state and the whites in a diverse nation such as the United States. Besides, the government institutions that have been formulated include the department of police. The organizations are a construction of the high-class citizens in the society (Skogan, 2013). Thus, according to the social conflict theorists, the primary function of the police is to preserve the status quo of the high-class people. Hence, the powerful authorities aid in exploiting the less fortunate in the society. Marxist traditions support the school of thought by indicating that the intersection that exists between race and class can collectively determine the police and civilian dynamics of interactions (Skogan, 2013).

The analysis of formal complaints in most multi-ethnic groups with differing income supports the social conflict theory. It indicates that the politically powerless and the economically marginalized individuals often reported police brutality and misconduct. Also, they experience serious acts of police misbehavior more often as compared to the high class. It is also notable that the police were likely to apply deadly force in case of riots or civil right movement. The reason is that the less privileged always constitute the majority of the rioting groups (Skogan, 2013).

For instance, the death of Rodney King, which sparked a major riot in 1991 in Los Angeles, was organized by the violent racial minority. The case has seen many people injured and killed (Skogan, 2013). The 2001 New York Youth Review distinguished that the African Americans had more interactions with the police force as compared to their white colleagues (Amnesty International, 2015). The phenomenon further justifies the social motivation of the police to use force towards the minority groups. In the 90s and early 2000, the whites dominated the police force in the United States. It was especially notable among the high ranking officers (Amnesty International, 2015). Thus, the phenomenon confirms the social indifferences existing in the police force that propagates the use of extrajudicial force to minorities. Therefore, according to the social conflict theory, unfairness is witnessed in the way the police handles different people depending on their social status.

Symbolic Interactionist Theory and Police Use of Force

The theory complements the social conflict theory, although it addresses segment or unit variations. Thus, it explains why some police officers apply force, while others do not believe in the use of extrajudicial power. The theory suggests that the police and the civilians behave according to the rules and norms of their respective group. Moreover, the interaction between the police and the civilians is based on social conflict perspective (Shoham & Stern, 2012). It implies that the police always view the minority group as rule violators, while the minority groups have the same opinion of the law enforcers. However, the theory indicates that lack of preconditions from the upper body in the police force would make an officer internalize his role as a control agent rather than act according to commands.

Many scholars, who advocate for the symbolic interactionism theory, argue that organizational structure and culture significantly influence the behavior of an individual in the organization. Thus, even in the police force, the organizational behavior affects the relationship between an officer and the civilians. The cultures and structures, therefore, teach the law enforces the values, attitudes, and beliefs that will be embraced to ensure the appropriate organizational or occupational behaviors. Adoption of the required actions means that the degrees, to which police officers apply the paramilitary police model, significantly differ depending on the structure of the institution.

For example, the police traffic units are not expected to be fierce to the civilians, since their training is less paramilitary as compared to the anti-riot officers. Additionally, some officers are susceptible to use the excessive force on the civilians based on their long exposure to other members of the bureau, who performed misconduct towards the civilians. The police patrol teams are composed of a group of officers rather than one policeman. Thus, acting against the group members’ arrangements would mean betrayal of the team. Hence, it turns out that the police officers are social animals, whose actions are shaped by the collective perception. Thus, it explains why sometimes a group of police officers in an action may be4 charged for excessive use of force.

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Another perspective of the theory indicates that, even though two officers may have the same stance within a department, they may still differ when encountering the civilians in the real-life situation. The behavior is based on their attitudes and behavioral approaches (Shoham & Stern, 2012). For example, if one of the officers adopts a positive role in crime fighting and perceives the rioting citizens as criminals, then he is likely to show an abusive and hostile attitude towards the rioting group. The other officer, who does not hold the same opinion, acts on his attitudes. It explains why in some instances only a few officers get convicted of extrajudicial activities in a group of police, who undertook an action to seek peace.

The social interactionist and the social conflict theories are intertwined in a case of the marginalized groups and police excessive force. Both theories suggest that the police officers, who use excessive force to the underprivileged groups, are driven by the dynamics of power. The feeling of control is provided by the high class, who marginalizes the low class based on politics and economic status quo. The less fortunate in the power distribution case react in retaliation to the force. Thus, they make the police to take action against them as directed by the high-class people.

Control Balance Theory and Police Use of Force

The theory explains why some police officers are involved in inappropriate behavior, such as the act of brutality in the specific time and context. Besides, the theory also expounds on the individuals motives to maximize their control over others. It also explores the external and internal factors influencing the excessive force use (Shoham & Stern, 2012). Some important components of the theory include seriousness, control ratio, balance-control desirability, self-control and opportunity. Seriousness refers to the probability of a deviant act to cause potential anti-control environment. The element implies that the activities can reduce one's level of controls in some environment. Hence, it is a factor that makes an officer engage in brutal behavior against the civilians (Shoham & Stern, 2012).

Control desirability involves elements of deviant behavior that motivate the maximization of control manipulation. Also, it includes effective escape from counter control measures. Other factors such as control ratio, constraints, self-control and opportunity contribute to the control desirability (Shoham & Stern, 2012). To elaborate, the theory recognizes the functions of one’s emotions that affect his cognitive behavior and the ability to use legitimate force. Therefore, as a person can exercise self-control himself, and calculate his actions when engaging in deviant behavior.

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In the case of a law enforcement bodies, the majority of police officers are affected by their lifestyle, especially in developing nations. For example, family issues, work environment, perceptions, etc. influence the level of self-control. The elements consequently affect the cognitive behavior, which hinders the control of the affected officers. Thus, it can lead them to apply extra-judicial force in interaction with the civilians (Shoham & Stern, 2012). The actions of cognitive behavior normally give the police a feeling of superiority, when they engage with other people and emerge victoriously rather than taking the anger on their immediate family (Menard & Arter, 2014). When the police are poorly coordinated by their commanders, the officers are likely to be provoked to apply force, based on their mental condition. The behavior may be an act of retaliating violence by the civilians, who do not show respect.

Therefore, the theory applies to the general motivation factors that lead the police to use the extrajudicial force. However, the theory suggests that the actions by police can easily be managed, when the forces are provided with regular counseling sessions to control their emotions. Also, the state, especially in the developing world, can improve the conditions for the officers through better pay and safe working environment. The strategy will help to reduce the frustration that the officers undergo in the course of their duties (Shoham & Stern, 2012).

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Shortcomings of the Police Brutality Theories

Many scholars focus on the power dynamics and support social conflict theory. The conflict strategy ideas are firmly tied to power dynamics that affects almost every country around the world. Leadership positions are mostly occupied by the high class representatives. The social order leaves the minority group to remain in their status quo. However, the aforementioned theories have limitations (Menard & Arter, 2014). For instance, the theories fail to indicate how personal cognitive behaviors and group thinking affect the motivation to use excess force. Importantly, some individuals in the police force fall in the minority groups and cannot act against the the people of their culture. The social relationship factor is not explained in the theory (Menard & Arter, 2014).

As noted in the case of social interactionist theory, the most officers do not apply the excessive force based on command, but do so due to the groups, which they are tied to in the forces. The factor is critical to be left out in the theory, since the policemen work in groups. Thus, individual behavior is jointly determined by the action of other officers in the unit. Besides, the theory is tied to action police departments, such as the anti-riot joints. The reason is that they can easily be influenced by the high social class, leaving the other police units applying excessive force. Moreover, the action divisions are not influenced by the economic elite, as in the case with the traffic police (Menard & Arter, 2014).

Additionally, while the theories only capture the general patterns associated with police brutality to the less powerful layers of society, none of the scholars explains the discrepancy in behaviors. The theories do not provide the reason some police officers commit acts of violence at a specific time and place, while others do not. Thus, the discussion revolves around the issue of cognitive behavior developed by individual policeman based on their mental status as in the case of control balance theory (Menard & Arter, 2014). In another case, the interactionism theory tends to support the social conflict theory by focusing on the issue of social status differences. Thus, the approaches should focus on the influence of economic elite of a state on the police (Shoham & Stern, 2012).

Finally, the control balance theory should focus on the powerful individuals, who control the actions of the police force. . Besides, it should also focus on the effects of group actions that may force an individual officer to act according to the division’s brutality rather than personal ideas.


The police application of excessive force is based on the three theories, which include social conflict theory, social interactionist theory, and the control balance theory. The social conflict theory is concerned with social differences that exist within a community. The social high-class tend to manipulate every state unit according to their interest. The phenomenon includes subduing the small class that necessitates the police use of force. On the other hand, the interactionist theory is focused on police interactions with their fellows that make them act as a group, thus applying the excessive force as a police division. Lastly, the control balance theory is based on cognitive behavior that has been developed by the police, depending on their working conditions and external factors that affect their daily lives.



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