Nowadays, civilized people cannot imagine their life without legislation. Indeed, laws control and, in a certain sense, stabilize society. In fact, there should be certain governmental agencies that help to implement legislation. Law enforcement bodies have shared this responsibility with courts and prisons. Despite the fact that people have to trust them in performing this duty, some contradictions arise as to the methods and strategies police apply to fight crime.
One of such strategies is the decisions of the police to stop, search, use force and arrest. Though the enumerated actions seem to be usual activities of law enforcement bodies, the circumstances in which they are applied cause controversies. Police scholars and journalists have discussed these measures for a long time, and the notion of police brutality appeared as a result.
The decision of the police to use force is considered either legitimate or unlawful, depending on the circumstances in which a police officer acts and an individual, which is a real or a suspected criminal. The application of force by the police entails additional social and legislative conflicts.
The Purpose of Research
The purpose of the current paper is to demonstrate that the use of force by the police should be properly controlled and reduced to a minimum, because the effectiveness of the law enforcements actions to decrease the crime rates with aggressive behavior, even based on reasonable suspicion, is not proven.
The paper proceeds with analyzing the works of some scholars as to police using force, including stop-and-frisk method, and social and racial conflicts, which are provoked by police brutality. The application of the statistical data shows how common the problem is for different minority groups, and whether it is worth concluding that there is a direct connection between revelations of police brutality and crime rates. The next point of this research paper is to determine, which actions the U.S. government can take to reduce the social burden of police brutality and to influence the decision of the police to stop, search, use force and arrest.
Police Use of Force: History of the Issue and Current Results of the Studies
As it is stated in the introduction, arresting, searching and applying force are the primary functions of the law enforcement bodies. These techniques are not subject to broad discussion, because the mentioned actions assist police in implementing laws.
However, people do not contradict with the police applying force, when they do it with criminals. The police scholars and usual citizens have considered the fact that the officers are brutal and aggressive with usual people, whom they report to suspect as abuse of authority, causing additional problems. The first aspect of this discussion is what actions the police can consider as illegitimate force application, and what explanations the officers can give to justify their aggressiveness.
As the discussion of police brutality started long ago, the focus of their attention has been gradually changing from deadly and excessive force to a broader range of police behaviors that are coercive in nature, but not necessarily lethal, violent, or physical (Klahm, Frank, & Liederbach, 2014, p. 558).
The authors write that coercive force definitely includes a wide range of physical actions, which police may use towards citizens, whom they suspect, and a number of different verbal assaults and threats. All the named measures may reveal disrespect of a police officer towards an individual, if they are not reasonably applied.
However, though this shift was made with the purpose to clarify in what cases police officers tend to apply force and in which forms, Klahm et al. (2014) state that 72% of the studies of the police application of force did not manage to create any conceptual framework for what is considered to be the use of force by the law enforcement, what are its exact forms and how it is possible to categorize them.
The authors think that free substitution of the term force by the notion coercion and vice versa is not a simple issue of semantics. This fact complicates the analysis and interpretation of the data on police use of force (Klahm et al., 2014). Thus, studying the issue of police brutality, searching and stopping people initially becomes complicated, because of the absence of distinct terminology.
Though the described problem with usual interpretation of what police use of force means exists, scholars do not stop investigations of the problem. Prenzler, Porter, and Alpert (2013) confirm the fact that the use of excessive or unnecessary force is a major problem internationally (p. 343). The authors have considered a number of case studies, related to police excessive use of force and concluded that they mostly involve the so-called problematic officers, who are frequently the subject of complaints.
Since it was impossible to determine why the cases of force application become common, Prenzler et al. (2013) only made an attempt to systemize measures, which are possible to take to prevent aggressive behavior of the police. Therefore, it is problematic to state which actions of the police are revelations of excessive force application and why officers are ready to demonstrate brutality of the law enforcement bodies, when it is not necessary.
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Stop-and-Frisk and a Racial Factor in Police Use of Excessive Force
Based on the previous section of the paper, it is difficult to determine which actions of the police can be considered unlawful acts of aggression. However, there are people, who are especially indignant with the behavior of the police and claim that the root of aggressiveness of the law enforcement is racial bias. Fryer (2016) states the facts, which confirm the existence of this foundation: blacks and Hispanics are more than fifty percent more likely to experience some form of force in interactions with police (p. 1).
However, the problem is much deeper than just statistical data about racial discrepancies in the police use of force, because not all researches possess confirmed statistical data or find any correlation between the level of crimes in the minority districts and police activities in these areas (Fryer, 2016).
Moreover, Fryer (2016) affirms that there are no differences between the number of cases of police force application, which had a lethal result, in the disadvantaged groups and main populations. Thus, it is possible to conclude that the value of a persons life is important for police officers regardless of the nationality of the suspect, but revelations of aggression are common for the law enforcement bodies in the minority districts.
The actions of the representatives of the law enforcement bodies aimed at stopping, searching, arresting and applying any kind of force to citizens can be defined by the notion stop-and-frisk (Greenawalt, 2014). This police practice was adapted in 1968. The court made a decision that starting from that day an officer could justify the action on the basis of a newly developed standard: reasonable suspicion (Mears, 2014, p. 335).
If a police officer stops a citizen in the street on the basis of the fact that some actions or behavior of this person seemed suspicious to him or her, he or she has the right to frisk this citizen, apply some force if necessary and even arrest him or her. However, if the suspect is not guilty and files a complaint in consequence, it can be difficult for an officer to confirm that his or her suspicion was objective and reasonable. Actually, stop-and-frisk is commonly applied by New York police and law enforcement departments in other big cities and has a function to prevent crimes.
However, the most controversial point in this aspect is whether a police officers personal suspicion can be considered fully objective. This issue provokes another problem of stop-and-frisk, which is the evidence that this police tactic is employed predominantly against young men in racial minorities (Greenawalt, 2014, p. 181). Thus, an issue of racial disparities has been a major focus of discussion about legitimacy of stop-and-frisk.
Characteristics of the Most Vulnerable Groups (Gender, Age, and Race)
If the question of racial bias has aroused, the police scholars should investigate in which groups stop-and-frisk is more applied and what decisions guide the police officers in their actions. Gelman, Fagan, and Kiss (2012) confirm that by following the statistical data, New York police stops and searches minority groups more often than the white population. However, it has been argued that stop rates more accurately reflect rates of crimes
committed by each ethnic group (Gelman et al., 2012). Harris (2014) adds that only about twelve percent of the stops and frisks produce anythingrecovery of contraband such as illegal drugs, recovery of a firearm, or the likethat resulted in an arrest or the issuance of a summons (p. 868). Thus, the discussion of the effectiveness of police use of force for crime reduction is absolutely grounded, especially in the context of racial bias.
As it was noted above, young (younger than 40 years old) representatives of racial minorities (mostly males) are most often stopped by the police (Greenawalt, 2014). Greenawalt (2014) writes that the question of gender priority in case of stop-and-frisk was determined from the very beginning, and women are rarely stopped and searched. The author writes that the race of an individual could serve as a factor, which is taken into consideration by an officer, when he stops a person on the street, just remembering that the crime rate in the minority populations is usually higher than among whites.
However, what is more important and can justify the action of a police officer, are some suspicious actions and behavior. However, if the law enforcement bodies considered all races equal from the point of view of how they behave, there would not be such a significant difference between the number of stops of whites and blacks and Hispanics (Greenawalt, 2014). What suspicions the police officers may have, when stopping citizens and which groups are considered to be most vulnerable?
The given statistical data proves that applying stop-and-frisk practice in blacks and Hispanic communities is generally justified. However, the number of stops in these groups is statistically bigger than in white communities, and the police state that the level of crime in these populations is higher, and this is the reason of why these groups attract more attention (Harris, 2014).
Reasons for Police Officers to Apply Excessive Force in Disadvantaged Groups
Though the explanations of the police should be definitely taken into consideration, it is worth investigating the reasons for racial disparities provoked by the police in this aspect in more details. Prenzler et al. (2013) write that the existing elevated level of excessive force application by police in the disadvantaged groups forms additional social and psychological problems for police officers, which push them to behave aggressively. Gelman et al. (2012) made a valuable conclusion in this sense by stating that the number of stop-and-frisks of the representatives of racial minorities is bigger in the more or less racially homogenous areas.
Thus, if a person is out of place, he or she can cause a reasonable suspicion and be stopped. Abrams (2014) notes that a race-blind police officer should stop individuals such that the likelihood of discovering contraband is equal across races (p. 373).
However, Greenawalt (2015) emphasizes that the current stop-and-frisk and other police strategies are developed on the basis of the statistical data, which does not objectively reveal the real crime rates and individual prejudices of police officers. Meares (2014) assumes that respect of the society towards police is formed based on how people assess the actions of the police and their attitude to other representatives of their population group.
As a result, the image of the law enforcement bodies generally spoils in the eyes of blacks and Hispanic populations, if the officers commonly arrest the representatives of their minority groups. Johnson (2015) compared the practice of stop-and-frisk and school searches, which are most commonly applied to minority students and concluded that stop and frisk searches, in particular, increase all types of delinquent behaviors in adolescents (p. 22). Therefore, besides social disparities, police brutality provokes the increase in crime levels.
Another reason of why police departments sometimes insist on applying stop-and-frisk method is that it can be considered as a hot spots policing strategy (Weisburd, Telep, & Lawton, 2013). In this case, they stop and research representatives of national minorities not in the areas where the white population predominantly lives, but in the communities of blacks and Hispanics. A period in the history of New York police, which can be considered in this context, is the 2000s.
That was the time when the New York department managed to do more with less, meaning that though the number of officers and resources was significantly reduced, the level of crime dramatically fell (Weisburd et al., 2013). At that time, the officers applied stop-and-frisk method in New York more often than before, and the supporters of this method state that the strategy significantly contributed to the crime reduction.
However, Weisburd et al. (2013) consider that we have no indication that other hot spots policing strategies declined during this period (p. 20). Thus, there are no distinct differentiation between the types of force the law enforcement bodies can apply and what actions can be revelations of police brutality. At the same way, any confirmation of the fact that stop-and-frisk policy ever contributed to significant reductions in crime rates does not exist. All the cited arguments verify that the decisions of the police to use force, arrest and search are mostly based on individual ideas of the police officers, and their objective suspicion can be questioned.
Possible Solutions for Reducing Police Brutality
The United States is a developed and civilized country, which tries to solve economic, social and policy issues, when they arise. Police brutality is commonly discussed topic with the growing number of immigrants in the state, and the methods to prevent unreasonable force application and the usage of stop-and-frisk strategy are being developed. Lim and Lee (2015) have performed a valuable research on evaluating the role of police supervisors in reducing excessive use of force by the law enforcement bodies.
They made some important conclusions, which involved correlations between the race of a supervisor, his or her education and the same characteristics, which the officers possess: police officers whose supervisors had non-bachelors degree were significantly to use higher levels of force against non-White citizens (p. 457).
Logically, no significant relationships were found between citizen race and the use-of-force by officers whose supervisor had bachelor or higher degrees (Lim & Lee, 2015, p. 457). Thus, it is very important to guide an officer from the very beginning and show him or her the direction in the way ethical minorities should be treated.
There are more methods to check the efficiency of stop-and-frisk. Harris (2014) writes that though the strategy was initially used by New York police department, 55 agencies in other big American cities also implemented the practice. However, they do not have any properly documented data about the number of stops, which their officers have performed and what results they had.
Harris (2014) offers the police department to keep track and have statistical data of all cases of stop-and-frisks or when police officers can be blamed for being brutal. Such information will help to reveal a real picture of stop-and-frisk productivity and the necessity for the police to use excessive force in some cases.
Conclusions and Recommendations
All governmental policies are developed by officials, who have certain experience in this issue and base their decisions on some possible practical outcomes. As it was stated in the introduction, law enforcement bodies together with prisons and courts assist in implementing legislation.
As a result, they sometimes feel that they possess more power and authority than they do in reality and their understanding of certain functions, which they assume, does not coincide with the ideas of the government and hopes of the population. This fact provokes the discussion and research analyzed in this paper, namely the use of excessive force towards the citizens, who are suspected of some crime, but in the majority of cases are innocent.
The discussed topic is important not only because American citizens stop trusting the police and feel disrespected, but also because police use forces disproportionally and racial minorities suffer from their actions. It is interesting that the number of lethal cases is statistically equal for all population groups, but the cases of police use of force in the disadvantaged groups are more common than for whites.
The investigation of this research paper proves that minority groups know what the police practice of stop-and-frisk means better than the white citizens of the United States. Police officers explain this fact by some vague statistical data on the level of crimes in these neighborhoods, but in reality only provoke racial disparities and complicate the situation.
Some psychological problems and prejudices, which police officers may have, are not taken into consideration by their administration. The general number of blacks and Hispanics, who experience excessive use of police force, is bigger than the number of whites, who are stopped, searched and physically or verbally assaulted. It means that police officers contribute to racial inequality, provoke social problems, fail to develop homogeneous society and improve the financial situation of the ethnical groups.
The stakeholders in this situation are police officers, who probably have some intentions to demonstrate significant reduction of the crime level, but do not thoroughly think that common application of stop-and-frisk practice is not the best method to reach this aim.
Some possible solutions and recommendations to help fight this problem include:
- to better educate, control and supervise police officers in the aspects of excessive use of force with a focus on racial minority groups;
- to organize a systematic collection of the information related to the application of stop-and-frisk method in all police departments, which use this practice;
- to develop a distinct interpretation of the terms police force and reasonable suspicion;
- to implement more serious financial, administrative and criminal responsibility for illegitimate cases of police use of force.