Use of Force


The problem of the use of force has always been one of the most important issues of the police. The police officers undergo special programs which are aimed at increasing their awareness in terms of problem-solving and which address the problems of excessive force usage. However, numerous cases over the past several decades indicate that the problem still exists and even might have aggravating tendencies. Moreover, there are various policies addressing this problem that provide different solutions of alleviating the problems of excessive force application by the police. However, the public tends to connect the number of the cases of the excessive force usage with their exposal in the mass media. Thus, some people believe that mass media has an effect on the aggressiveness of the police. At the same time, others claim that it allows discussing the problem and depicts the most typical cases that have to be resolved. Consequently, this paper discusses the impact of mass media on the “use of force” issue discussing both of the public’s popular opinions. Moreover, it defines the problem and proposes various possible solutions to it as well as the implications on the police training techniques. Therefore, one presumes that mass media assists the public in managing the problem of the excessive force usage by the police.

Defining the Problem

Before presenting the policies and discussing the problem, one has to define it and provide the appropriate examples that would depict this problem. Scholars define force as “the use of physical restraint by a police officer when dealing with a member of the public”. The type and degree of the applied force depends on the level of the suspect’s threat to the public and to the police. Consequently, the police have to use the exact amount of force that corresponds to the circumstances and that is necessary to restrain the dangerous person. It is a common practice to train officers to define the degree of threat and to bring out decisions on the application of a reasonable force. Furthermore, use of force includes hitting; restraining or holding; pushing; threatening with the use of force, including handcuffs, a dog or a gun; as well as using tasers. Moreover, along with the definition of force the police are aware of the notion of an “excessive force.”

The police practitioners define it as “the application of an amount and/or frequency of force greater than the required to compel compliance from a willing or unwilling subject”. Thus, it is important for the police officer to be capable of identifying the type and degree of a threat and to provide an adequate reaction to it. Often, the cases of application of force require making rapid decisions, which should be based on theory and experience. Consequently, an inappropriate behavior of an officer who exceeds the allowed amount of force leads to a public scrutiny. As a result, mass media and legislators monitor the sphere of the use of force, addressing both the aggressors and the victims of its application. Thus, the public and the law enforcement agencies condemn the excessive use of force. Despite the fact that some scholars argue that there is a difference between the use of excessive force, and the excessive use of force, these two notions are often regarded as similar. The reason for this is that both of them represent the exceeded degree of the applied force, which is illegal.

Furthermore, one should state that the society has a problem of the usage of excessive force by the police. We can state it because of the result of an analysis of numerous complaints from the citizens about the frequent use-of-force incidents as well as other evidence. The dramatic illustration of this is the incident in Ferguson, Mo., where a police officer Darren Wilson shot a teenager Michael Brown. Another similar incident occurred in November in Cleveland, Ohio, where the police shot a 12-year-old Tamir Rice. Moreover, on April 4, 2015, a police officer shot Walter L. Scott after a routine traffic stop in North Charleston, S.C. One has to mention that the number similar examples are numerous. Consequently, the described cases led to the public rage and a number of severe protests demanding the resolution of the issue and justice for the victims of excessive force.

Furthermore, scholars claim that the police have always been improving in the modern American society. For instance, Bittner claimed that the police brutality and corruption lead to the fact that a police reform had become an internal goal. Such claims initiated numerous studies on this issue, including the nation-wide surveys. Some of them have been initiated as a response to the Police Use of Force Workshop’s statement that the police do not resort to the use of force. Consequently, the researchers received 1,111 complete surveys, which were then analyzed. As a result, a summary calculation gave a rate of 11.3 complaints per 100,000 people. Also, the survey conducted in 1991 indicated that there were a total of 119 citizens’ complaints about the use of force.

Among them, 99 were regarded as unfounded, and 20 were sustained. Along with this, The Christopher Commission found out that approximately 1,800 LAPD officers practiced an excessive use of force between 1986 and 1990. Thus, one can state that the use of force and exceeding the limits of an appropriate use of force have been a common practice for the police all over the country. That is why police officers require instructions and regulations stimulating the decision-making of the use of appropriate force. 

Regulations and Causes of the Use of Force and Excessive Force

Next, one should state that the police identify several stages of the use of force. Among them are a mere presence, verbalization, command voice, firm grips, pain compliance, impact techniques and lethal force. Moreover, impact techniques and lethal force may be characterized as often resulting in an injury or death of a suspect. Consequently, the public discusses such results as cases of the exceeding the limits of appropriate use of force. In order to enhance the management of the issue, the police regulators introduced the notion of a force continuum. This continuum involves two major elements, which are the suspect behavior and the police response. The described continuum is created for the officers to be aware of the range of possible and expected suspect’s behavior. Moreover, it includes an adequate response to each type of the suspect’s behavioral patterns. For instance, the presence of the police is characterized as psychological intimidation whereas active aggression requires utilization of tactics and weapons. However, one presumes that some of the officers are much too poorly trained to correctly evaluate the threat and address it with an appropriate response. Thus, one should investigate the cases of these situations.

It should be noted that some scholars connect the rising brutality of the police officers as a consequence of 9/11 terrorist attacks. The U.S. Department of Justice reports that from 2001 to 2007 the cases of police brutality reached an increase of 25 percent. Thus, such cases were quite often in New York, Milwaukee, Jackson, Mississippi, New Orleans, Chicago and Cleveland. One more explanation of this can also be a reduction of the qualification requirements for the officers. This measure was a consequence of the war in the Middle East, which resulted in a big part of the police officers drawn into the military service. As a result, many police departments lowered their recruitments and lowered the standards in order to fill the vacant spots. That is why the increase frequency of cases of the exceeding force usage might be connected with the poor training, qualifications and skills of the new police officers.

Furthermore, there are various theories explaining the excessive application of force by the police. For instance, Black argues that the police might be more aggressive towards those suspects who have a lower economic or a marginal status. Moreover, there is a psychological approach that discusses the influence of the personal characteristics on the type of the used force. This approach divides the police officers into two dimensions based on their view of human nature and their attitudes towards the use of coercive authority. One more conceptual explanation for the issue is the role of the police organization itself and its formal and informal characteristics in particular. For instance, Wilson argues that the styles of conduction police work reflect the organizational rules, regulations, procedures, motivations, and the organizational direction that are prevalent in the police station. That is, the overall policy influences the mindset of a particular officer towards handling the police work. However, the selected approaches do not take broader context in consideration. One of the examples is the urban regions with increased occurrence of incidents. For instance, the cases of inappropriate police aggression are more often found in Brooklyn than in other parts of New York City. At the same time, some scholars indicate that the provocative behavior of a suspect might also be a reason of the excessive force application. For instance, Maguire and Duffee claim that “arrest is more likely if the suspect is antagonistic or disrespectful to police.” Moreover, the black suspects were found to be more aggressive in their behavior, which often caused the more frequent use of excessive force towards them. In this sense, the public argues with the role of mass media in stimulation of the use of excessive force.

The Role of Mass Media

Next, one should address the public discussion of mass media’s role in the cases of excessive force usage by the police. First, there are a large number of people that views the role of the media as the agitator of the police’s misconduct. According to the norms of the media professionals, media practitioners should transmit the legitimate and factual information without having an impact on the social conflicts or changing the public agenda. However, some people claim that modern television, newspapers and other media tend to violate these rules and thus initiate some negative social tendencies. They think that the modern media space has numerous cases of discussing and thus provoking violence. Moreover, this violence is often connected with racial or other social problems which raise prejudices. Thus, Lawrence claims that commercialism encourages journalists to see lucrative news opportunities in dramatic stories and those that involve official’s wrongdoing. Thus, despite the media gives the journalists an opportunity to define events in the news, they focus their attention to such issues that turn out to be harmful. Furthermore, scholars indicate that dramatic cases of police brutality can arouse a reporter’s commercial and reformist instincts. Thus, the excessive use of force becomes “good news” that makes a journalist famous and increases his or her salary. For instance, Howard Rosenberg, a media critic, argues based on the case of a police dog biting a man. Thus, he stresses that the media coverage of such news transforms the “good guys” into the “bad guys”. At the same time, the reporters explain such representation of the news as an attempt to demonstrate a problem in the system.

The other group of people assure that mass media stimulates the critical approach towards the drawbacks of the law and police systems. That is why they highlight the positive effects of the media discussing the problems that involve an excessive use of force by the police. For instance, some recent researches revealed that “regular viewers of crime shows are more likely to fear crime”. Thus, the attention to the issue of police brutality makes the public fear its repetition and consequently initiates a public pressure on the police and on the justice system. Additionally, one has to point out that the recent findings have revealed a lack of connection between the consumed news and the general attitudes towards the police. At the same time, Chermak, McGarrell and Gruenewald claim that media coverage affects the citizens’ assessment of the guilt of those officers who are drawn in the incident. Along with this, the concerns about crime in the neighborhood are a factor that impacts the attitude towards the police. Thus, the news involving racial issues and the excessive use of force draw the public attention towards both of the problems. As a result, the local and the federal regulators have to respond to the issues introducing various legal acts and regulations. Thus, without the attention of the mass media to the issue the country might lack the adequate legal responses and the attempts of its management. Consequently, one can assume that mass media plays a generally positive role by focusing the public attention on the problem. As a result, the public initiates the procedures that result in various legal regulations and procedures that defend the citizens from such problems.

Policies and Regulations

Furthermore, it should be noted that the attention of the mass media to the problem initiated various processes that sped up the changes in the use of force practice. For instance, the U.S. Department of Justice initiated a study on the issue. Consequently, after 35 years of studies, its report on the issue convinced the regulators that “incidents of police use of excessive and lethal force can be prevented”. Thus, various police departments initiated some changes in their training programs that increase awareness of the problem and problem solution skills of the officers. For instance, the police of Oregon added a discussion of “the relationship between the force factor and the suspect's being under the influence of alcohol or drugs”. At the same time, the police departments of Phoenix found out that the cases of excessive force often included a use of a flashlight as a weapon.

Consequently, the departments initiated training courses that increased the officers’ awareness and enhanced their arrest tactics. Additionally, cover-and-contact tactics were introduced in order to minimize the possible misuse of force through the support of an additional officer. In such cases, the psychological pressure of the presence of the two officers suppresses the suspect’s possible aggression.

Consequently, one might conclude that the media has played a positive role in at least partially resolving the issue of the police brutality and use of excessive force. Thus, there is a high possibility that numerous changes in the legal system and the updated police training programs would gradually resolve the discussed issue.


Summarizing the presented information, one comes to a conclusion that mass media plays an important role in tackling the problem of excessive force. Studies indicate that there are various factors that stimulate the police brutality and the excessive use of force. Among them one can name the changes of the police staff requirements due to the war in the Middle East and the increased aggression after 9/11 terrorist attacks. Moreover, studies have indicated that there was a lack of training skills and strategies, which prevents an adequate response of the officers to the aggression. Nonetheless, there are people that claim that the mass media has been provoking the police aggression in its chase for popular and lucrative news. However, it is important to mention that the mass media has been focusing the public attention on the cases of excessive use of force. This resulted in the fact that the public pressure was a driver for a number of reforms in the police training programs and legal regulations. Thus, one presumes that mass media has not aggravated but rather stimulated the management of the excessive force by the government and the society.

Related essays