Throughout history, efforts to police society have been flawed by brutality in one way or another. Police Brutality exists in many countries and is only one of several forms of police misconduct. Abuse by law enforcement officers in the United States is one of the most serious human rights violations in the country. Police officers have engaged in unjustified shootings, severe beatings, fatal chokings, and unnecessarily rough treatment. The history of police brutality is cyclical, going through phases of violence, corruption, and reform.
Police brutality is the excessive use of physical force, assault, verbal attacks, and threats by police officers and other law enforcement officers. The targets of the violence are usually the poor, the working class, political dissidents, and ethnic minorities. Police brutality is often associated with racial profiling. Differences in race, religion, politics, and socioeconomic status between police and citizens can contribute to how some police officers view the population as generally deserving punishment.
Cases in which police officers, prison guards, and other law enforcement authorities have used excessive force or other tactics to violate victims’ civil rights have increased twenty-five percent from 2001 to 2007. Federal prosecutors are targeting a rising number of law enforcement officers for alleged brutality. Some victims see the police as protecting the upper classes. They think police violence only came under examination when “decent” people became victims. The causes of police brutality may vary from the individual police officer to the leadership of an entire squad.
Stress is an inherent part of police work, especially since lives are literally in their hands. The extreme stress and pressure placed on police officers has caused an increasing number of extreme use of force cases across the United States. Police officers are rarely required to fire their guns and most calls are more along the nature of domestic disputes, but everyday there is the underlying knowledge that they may either have to “kill or be killed. ” Police work is an extremely emotional occupation and it is difficult for police officers not to get personally involved in their work. When a citizen undermines a police officer’s authority in the face of all that stress, an encounter can take a life of its own.
Another cause of police brutality can simply be an abuse of power. These are usually more extreme cases. In some cases, police officers believe that they are above the law. In dealing with disorderly elements of society, some people working in law enforcement may gradually develop an attitude or sense of authority over society. An additional cause may be jurisdiction where the officers serve.In some areas, law enforcement officers are the targets of acts of violence on a regular basis.
In cases such as these, when officers are attempting to make an arrest or retain a suspect, the officers may act out of fear or anger and necessary force may go too far. Also, police officers do make honest human mistakes, often as a result of allowing personal bias or emotion to influence their actions. When an officer arrests someone, the accused person is taken into custody. The police can arrest a person who is suspected of having committed a criminal offense.
A police officer may also arrest anyone who commits an offense in the officer’s presence, obstructs a police officer from executing his duties, or is wanted by the authorities. When making an arrest, a police officer will come into physical contact with or even attempt to confine a suspect. If the suspect forcibly resists arrest or attempts to escape, the officer may use all necessary means to achieve the arrest. Arrest is the act of taking an adult or juvenile into physical custody by authority of law for the purpose of charging the person with a criminal offense, a delinquent act, or a status offense.
When a suspect is being arrested, he should be informed of the grounds of his arrest as soon as the circumstances permit. The United States Constitution, especially the Bill of Rights, is designed to protect citizens against abuses of police power. The Constitution is designed to ensure that no one individual or agency can become powerful enough to usurp the rights and freedoms guaranteed under the Constitution. The Fourth Amendment ensures that we each have the right to be secure in our persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable search and seizures.
Under the Eighth Amendment, even if a person is a convicted incarcerated prisoner, he has the right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. The Fourteenth Amendment allows us all not to be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. The police are in place to ensure us these rights and protect harm to individuals or to society. The case of police brutality against Abner Louima is one of the worst in history.
Louima is a Haitian immigrant who was assaulted and brutalized by New York City police officers after being arrested outside of a Brooklyn night club in 1997. That night, Louima visited a popular night club after work. Late in the night he and several men interceded in a fight between two women. The police were called and several officers from the 70th Precinct were dispatched to the scene. Outside of the club, there was a confrontation between police officers, patrons, and bystanders involved in the scuffle.
For reasons that remain unclear, Officer Justin Volpe thought he was “sucker-punched” by Louima and arrested him on charges of disorderly conduct, obstructing government administration, and resisting arrest. On the ride to the station, officers beat Louima with their fists, night sticks, and hand-held police radios. Once they arrived at the station, he was strip searched and put into a holding cell. Later, the beating continued. Officer Volpe kicked Louima in the testicles and while his hands were cuffed behind his back, he was sodomized with a toilet plunger. This caused severe internal damage to his colon and bladder that required several operations to repair.
Louima’s teeth were badly damaged when the plunger was jammed into his mouth. He was left in this condition all night until being transferred to the emergency room the next day. On December 13, 1999, officer Volpe was sentenced to thirty years in prison without the possibility of parole, a $525. 00 fine and restitution in the amount of $277,495. 00.
The incident provoked outrage in New York City. Louima’s civil suit against the city resulted in a settlement of $8. 75 million on July 30, 2001. This was the largest police brutality settlement in the history of New York City.
Victims of police brutality feel that there is little they can do about it. They are usually intimidated by the amount of red tape involved in reporting the incident. They are also convinced that they will not be taken seriously or that the courts will look the other way. Although most police departments have strict guidelines regarding the use of deadly force, they are not always adhered to or completely understood.
For the most part, disciplinary action in police brutality cases is rare. When punishments are given out, they are usually lenient. On the other hand, there is a simple method to combat excessive use of force by police officers. If an officer is unnecessarily rough or verbally abusive, the victim can file a complaint.
Once a complaint is filed, it becomes a permanent record in the officer’s file and will follow the officer throughout his career. If the officer receives numerous complaints, he may be suspended or if enough complaints are filed, the officer may be fired. The department may choose to fire the troubled officer rather than risk having to explain why that officer was allowed to continue serving. Police brutality can be very disheartening behavior coming from officers who have sworn to protect and serve. However, it can be over dramatized as well.
Citizens tend to forget that police officers are human and do make mistakes and sometimes even hold prejudices. Also, some members of the public may perceive the use of force as excessive when it is reasonable and appropriate for the circumstances. The primary discrepancy in excessive force cases stems from the fact that police officers are required to use some type of force. It is sometimes difficult to draw the line between what is necessary and what is excessive.
Every year there are thousands of reports of excessive use of force by police officers. In spite of that, some studies show that most police brutality cases go unreported. It is difficult to tell how many cases go unreported. Every law enforcement officer takes an oath and promises to serve and protect. The majority of officers serve with dignity and understand and use necessary force. Police officers rely primarily on instinct.
As long as their basic intention is for good, citizens need to trust the officer’s instincts are correct. The number of officers who actually use excessive force is presumed to be small. No one is above the law, especially police officers.
- www. abanet.org/publicized/courts/arrestprocedure. html www. carusesof. org/causes-of-police-brutality. php
- Johnson, Kevin. “Police Brutality Cases on the Rise Since 9/11. ” USA Today 17 Dec. 2007. www. policebrutalitylaw.com
- Schmalleger, Frank. Criminal Justice Today: An Introductory Text for the Twenty-First Century. 9th Edition. http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Abner-Louima