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Police Abuse Essay Research Paper Police Abuse

Police Abuse Essay, Research Paper

Police Abuse

In recent years, police actions, particularly police abuse, has

come into view of a wide, public and critical eye. While citizens worry

about protecting themselves from criminals, it has now been shown that they

must also keep a watchful eye on those who are supposed to protect and

serve. This paper will discuss the types of police abuse prevalent today,

including the use of firearms and receipt of private information. I will

also discuss what and how citizens’ rights are taken advantage of by

police. For these problems, solutions will be discussed, focusing on

political reform, education, and citizen review boards. These measures are

necessary to protect ourselves from police taking advantage of their

positions as law enforcement officers with greater permissive rights than

private citizens. Because of this significant differential, all citizens

must take affirmative action from physical brutality, rights violations,

and information abuse.

Problems arise, however, when one side is told what to do by

another, as there is bound to be conflicting viewpoints. In regard to

police abuse, there will be many officers who feel that their job of

fighting escalating street crime, gangs, narcotics violations, and other

violent crimes is difficult already, and that worrying about excessive

policy for abusive behavior will only further decrease their ability to

fight crime effectively, efficiently, and safely. Citizens, however, have

been caught up in this gung-ho attitude, and police are more and more often

crossing the line of investigation and interrogation with abusive behavior.

This abuse must be monitored so that police do not forget who they are

serving–not themselves, but the public. This means that even the

criminals, who are a part of the public, have certain rights, particularly,

civil rights. All citizens must be aware of these rights to protect

themselves against over-aggressive officers who take advantage of their

position as badge and gun holders to intimidate and abuse civilians for

personal or departmental goals.

Such conflicts have significant implications on departmental and

administrative policy procedures. One of the main police abuse problems is

physical brutality. The main goal here should be to get the police

departments to adopt and enforce a written policy governing the use of

physical force. The policy should restrict physical force to the narrowest

possible range of specific situations. For example, their should be

limitations on the use of hand-to-hand combat, batons, mace, stun guns, and

firearms. However, limiting polices’ actions will bring much debate,

especially from police officers and administrators themselves. Many feel

that their firepower is already too weak to battle the weapons criminals

have on the streets, and limiting their legality of gun use will not only

endanger them, but the innocent bystanders who must endure the hierarchy

gunpower creates in the benefit of criminals.

For instance, not only should officers use brutality in very

limited situations, to help curtail unwarranted use, but policies should

require officers to file a written report after any use of physical force,

regardless of how seemingly insignificant. That report should then be

automatically reviewed by superior officers. It is necessary to involve

superior officers so that a tolerance of brutality is not established, and

an atmosphere conducive to police abuse is not created. Police may feel

that such action would be burdensome. This is so because police often

already feel burdened and restrained by policy and paperwork which takes a

large amount of their on-duty time. When will police be required to do

paperwork on how long and what was done during each coffee break to ensure

tax payers are getting their every seconds worth? There must be a

reasonable balance between civilian intervention and administration.

Although, if every incidence of police abuse was requested to be reported,

how many actually would be? Maybe only those serious enough, as depicted

in new guidelines, would make it, leaving some space for officers to exert

pressure without crossing serious and abusive policy.

Another tactic to control police brutality is to establish a system

to identify officers who have been involved in an inordinate number of

incidents that include the inappropriate use of physical force. The

incidents should then be investigated. For those officers who are

frequently involved in unnecessary police brutality, they should be

charged, disciplined, re-trained and offered counseling. If such treatment

proves ineffective, officers who violate abuse standards should be brought

up on review before an administrative board comprised of citizens and

police officials. A third violation should be met with termination and

loss of pension. Some may claim that this is paranoia and will simply cost

too much. A single officer can tie up numerous other non-problem officers

during the discipline and re-training stages, only adding to the cost of

rehabilitating this problem officer. When does an officer need

intervention? When is the officer worth keeping or discharging? Is

identifying abusive officers a form of prejudice? The police officer is

there to serve and protect the public who pays his or her salary. The

officer should then be subject to any investigations into his or her

abusive actions on the job.

A third method for controlling police brutality is creating a

civilian review board. The review board should be independent from the

police department so that officers cannot exert their influence over

civilians or the decisions made by the group. The review board should also

hold open meetings so that all members of the community are welcome to come

and share their concerns, complaints, and any ideas about how to monitor

and curtail police brutality. It is imperative that this review board be

made up of strictly civilians, so that information and concerns remain

honest, and not biased by those who hold only polices’ interests at hand.

Of course. police officers and their administrators may feel some prejudice

because they are not represented on the board, yet their own internal

review capability should more than compensate. Once again, a review board

comprised strictly of civilians is the only way to comprehensively and

justly address abuse concerns of the private citizen, short, of course, of

resorting to the formal step of judicial proceedings.

There are also methods of controlling police brutality through

state channels. First is establishing an office that oversees complaints

and cases of police abuse. All complaints should be made public, either

through television or print news, so that the community is aware of which

officers have a history of brutality. In addition to a governmental

investigation board, there should be a state-oriented civilian review board

who collects data from the various cities around the state to monitor

trends and problems with brutality, as well as to offer suggestions to

cities based on methods which have proven successful in others. This is

similar to a state-wide civilian review board support and coordination

group. Together, these groups can gain political force and keep police

departments aware of the concern of citizens and the government as to the

safety and legality of police actions.

Yet even if internal policy and external government supervision is

successful, it is difficult to say how the ethics of police officers will

affect abuse policy as they are based on personal, socioeconomic background

and upbringing that have little to do with the issue at hand. However,

assuming police adopt some common form of action through job association,

it becomes not so difficult to see how police abuse tactics can spread.

When it comes to police taking advantage of citizens’ rights, there are

numerous circumstances of which a private citizen must be aware.

To ensure citizens’ know what rights they have, they must be

educated. First, all people should know their constitutional rights. For

example, if you are stopped in you car, do you have to let an officer

search your car? What should you do? First, you should show your driver’s

license and registration upon request. If the officer wants to look in you

car, in most cases, such as if he pulled you over simply for not wearing

your seat-belt, there is no reason for him or her to search your car and

you do not have to oblige. However, the officer can claim he or she had

probable cause if, for example, you had alcohol on your breath or there was

drug paraphernalia present. If the officer insists on searching the

vehicle, to protect yourself later, you should make it clear that you do

not consent to a search. You do not have to consent! However, if you are

suspected of drunken driving and refuse a blood, urine or breath test, your

driving license can be suspended. Still, many people are intimidated by

police officers and the power they have, and this is where officers take

advantage of those who do not know their rights or do not know how to stand

up for them. The ethics of police as people is often overridden by their

goals as police officers which is to stop any illegal activities. This,

too, may be overridden by a set of departmentally unendorsed personal goals

leading to both citizen and police procedure abuse.

Another form of unethical police abuse is spying, or information

gathering, on constitutionally protected political, religious and private

sexual behavior. Spying is a difficult abuse to monitor because it is a

covert activity which makes those who participate in it all the more

unethical. The victim does not know it’s happening, and it is not

witnessed by others. One way to curtail spying or excessive information

gathering is to restrict the information police have access to. All

information to be collected can only be done so if that person is

reasonably suspected of having committed a crime, and the information must

be relevant to that crime.

A second solution to controlling illegal access to information is

to implement an independent civilian auditor who must review all police

authorizations to collect restricted information and have access to all

other police files. This will ensure the police are not gathering

superfluous information. The use of an independent civilian auditor will

also ensure the process does not represent the interests of officers only,

but also those of the general pubic, whom they are charged with protecting.

If the auditor finds that the police have violated the law, he or she must

so notify the individuals who are the subjects of the unlawful

investigations so that they can then press charges against the city and

collect damages. This is a form of punishment which will discourage the

officers from spying, and will encourage city officials to crack down on

those who do to legally protect themselves.

Most of the cost of the above mentioned police abuse prevention

strategies lies with the taxpayer, for when it comes to funding discipline

and re-training yet again, the burden is on the taxpayers. What this means

is that citizens must be willing to take on this additional financial

burden or take a loss in some other area of police protection. For

example, to pay for the additional manpower it takes to implement the new

policies, from disciplinary actions and mental and physical training, the

department may have to cut back on the total number of officers, both in

the field and holding administrative positions. This would mean less

officers on the street for protection. Response time may slow down as

officers have larger areas to cover. In less affluential neighborhoods,

where adopting the higher cost is not a small issue, and where added police

protection is most often needed, and where crime and abuse most prevalent,

added stress of police budgets does not serve as many people. For those

who can afford the financial increase, they are morally aware that police

are being kept in-line. For those who cannot afford it, they see more of

the negative implications such as increased cost–possibly–or less

available officers. Is there a way for police abuse to be monitored

without the direct community taking the full burden? Perhaps the federal

government can supply the additional manpower, and hence the additional

cost, of implementing an investigation and rehabilitation team. Surely, at

least some portion of the newly passed Clinton Crime Bill provides for such


Even if the financial subsidies are provided, practical problems to

abuse policy implimentation still surface. One example of such a problem

occurs through media. Many times in movies or on television, when an

officer arrests a person you hear him or hear rattle off a list of “rights”

from a card. The officers are reading, and they are required to read it

from the card to avoid mistakes, the Miranda rights. This is a very simple

operational step. It only takes a moment to read the rights, and the person

in question is made aware of his or her rights for the purposes of

constitutionality–at least in the movies. Often, such a procedure is

omitted or bypassed by an over zealous officer, in deferrence to the

departmental policy and the citizen’s rights.

One of these rights includes the right to a lawyer before you talk

to the police. You only need to tell the police your name and address. Do

not give explanations, excuses or stories! You should confer with a lawyer

to make a defense in court. Police often resort to threats or trickery to

get people to confess. This is a violation of your rights! Even if you

cannot pay for a lawyer, you have a right to a free one, and you should ask

the police how the lawyer can be contacted. Do not talk without a lawyer.

One of your telephone calls should be to contact this lawyer. Call one

immediately after your have been arrested. Don’t worry about calling your

mother, your lawyer will help protect your rights and to get a fair

trial–should it come to that. Your second call can be to anybody, but

preferably someone who can post your bond. This suggestion may irritate

some police as it holds up the investigation process. However, without a

lawyer present, a person cannot know all of the legalities involved in

being arrested from the minute the officer approaches you to the minutes,

if it comes to this, the person is incarcerated. Making a person aware of

his or her rights is practical in the short and long run for both parties,

yet even in light of departmental mandates, officers often overlook this

basic step in avoiding police abuse.

While there are specific solutions to brutality, rights abuse, and

spying, there are also some general solutions that could be implemented

before the problems even arise. For example, there should be changes in

police officer training. Some communities have demanded their officers

receive higher education. However, there is no proof that well-educated

officers rely less on abuse and more on departmentally-sound investigation

techniques. The length of training of police personnel should be

increased, as has been the trend in recent years. The average length of

police academy programs has more than doubled, from about 300, to over 600

hours; in some cities, 900, or even 1200 hours are the rule. As the time

devoted to training has increased, the institutions should also stress the

importance of the growing trends in criminal activity so that they are

prepared to deal with them. These include such areas as race relations,

domestic violence, handling the mentally ill, and so on. This will, in

turn, enable operations run more smoothly, hopefully avoiding police abuse

problems in the future.

Such training translates into several goals in creating a

professional police force. The first goal is in establishing a first rate

police academy curriculum that includes classroom and in the field

training. In addition to being given weapons and taught how to use them,

police recruits should also learn special skills, such as techniques of

de-escalating violence and communications skills which will help them

defuse and avert situations that might lead to the necessary use of force.

Police training programs should also include community sensitivity

training to reduce community-police tensions. Examples of such successful

programs introduced to the community include those to reduce tensions,

particularly with the homeless, gays, and African-Americans. Education of

both police officers and citizens will help police meet their ultimate goal

of controlling crime. Implementing policy may, at first, hinder police

from performing their duties, as they have grown used to certain pressure

tactics. However, as education and communication skills increase, the

ability of the police department to interact with local resources instead

of taking so much of the burden internally, will help alleviate some of the

pressure felt by citizens. Citizens, then, will have more involvement, and

hence, more satisfaction with the job police departments are doing.

As the prevalence of police abuse as shown through the media has

drawn attention to the need for increased surveillance on police, a

mandated cure is now a necessity. While brutality and police abuse seems

to be a prehistoric idea, the surge of violence has caused police to fight

back in often un-police like manners, though seemingly acceptable to deal

with those break the law. Methods must be implemented which effectively

deal with police who tend to cross the line, from simple situations to

serious firearm use or prejudice. These solutions should be offered by a

variety of view points, so as to address both the needs of police and

citizens themselves. Some of the solutions, particularly the policy

changes, will be met with controversy and will be difficult to implement.

Citizen watch groups will be much easier to organize as there are already

thousands of neighborhood watches illustrating that citizens are willing to

become involved to protect both their community, as well as themselves.

Keeping track of police is the next step in self-protection. Some of the

goals addressed here are most helpful for the citizen as a first step in

the education process, and will hopefully inspire those who feel they need

to take affirmative action against police abuse.

While the threat of a world war has diminished, the violence on the

streets across America has increased at a dramatic rate. Police are forced

to face this violence and are sometimes caught up in the same violent and

abusive cycle while trying to fight it. Citizens realize that police

intervention is necessary, but they also realize that there are limits as

to what a police officer can do. To make society a safe place for both

citizens and officers, it is imperative that they work together for a

comprehensive checks and balances system. The United States Constitution

guarantees certain rights for everyone, and is the very backbone of this

country. If it is to be ignored, either through permissive laws enacted

for law enforcement against private citizens, or through a lack of

maintenance of existing protective legislation, private citizens–indeed,

the entire country–will become paralyzed. Because of this, the

opportunity and freedom which this country is built on must be enforced,

and those charged with doing so must not abuse their power.


Bouza, Anthony. (1990).The police mystique: An insider’s look at cops,

crime and the criminal justice system. New York: Plenum Press.

Chevigny, Paul. (1991).Police brutality in the United States: A policy

statement on the need for Federal oversight. New York: Human Rights


COP WATCH Report. (1994).

Couper, David C. (1983). How to rate your local police. Police Executive

Research Forum.

Geller, William A. (1982). Deadly force: What we know. Journal of Police

Science and Administration, 10 , 151-177.

New York Civil Liberties Union. (1990). Police abuse: The need for

civilian investigation and oversight. New York.

Reiss, Albert J. (1971). The police and the public. New Haven,

Connecticut: Yale University Press.

U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. (1981). Who is guarding the guardians: A

report on police practices. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office.

Vaughn, Jerald. (1989). How to rate your police chief. Police Executive

Research Foundation.

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