Police brutality

Police brutality

Police brutality is the world wide use of excessive force, usually physical, "but potentially also in the form verbal attacks and psychological intimidation", by a police officer.

Widespread police brutality exists in many countries, even those that prosecute it.cite web | title = Amnesty International Report 2007 | url = http://thereport.amnesty.org/eng/Homepage | publisher = Amnesty International |year= 2007 | accessdate - 2007-08-08 ] Police brutality is one of several forms of police misconduct, which include false arrest, intimidation, racial profiling, political repression, surveillance abuse, sexual abuse, and police corruption.


Throughout history, efforts to police societies have been marred by brutality to some degree. In the ancient world, policing entities actively cultivated an atmosphere of terror, and abusive treatment was used in order to achieve more efficient control of the populationFact|date=April 2008. The origin of modern policing based on the authority of the nation state is commonly traced back to developments in seventeenth and eighteenth century France, with modern police departments being established in most nations by the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (see Police - History section). Cases of police brutality appear to have been frequent then, with "the routine bludgeoning of citizens by patrolmen armed with nightsticks or blackjacks.". [cite book | last = Johnson | first = Marilynn S. | editor = Johnson | title = Street Justice: A History of Police Violence in New York City | year = 2004 | publisher = Beacon Press | id = ISBN 0807050237 | pages = 365] Large-scale incidents of brutality were associated with labor strikes, such as the Great Railroad Strike of 1877, the Pullman Strike of 1894, the Lawrence textile strike of 1912, the Ludlow massacre of 1914, the Steel strike of 1919, and the Hanapepe massacre of 1924.

United States

In the United States, the passage of the Volstead Act (popularly known as the National Prohibition Act) in 1919 had a long-term negative impact on policing practices. By the mid-1920s, crime was growing dramatically in response to the demand for illegal alcohol. Many law enforcement agencies stepped up the use of unlawful practices. By the time of the Hoover administration (1929-1932), the issue had risen to national concern and a National Committee on Law Observation and Enforcement (popularly known as the Wickersham Commission) was formed to look into the situation. [cite web | title = Wicker shambles |url = http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,740911-3,00.html | publisher = Time Magazine | date =1931-02-02 | accessdate = 2007-09-05 ] The resulting "Report on Lawlessness in Law Enforcement" (1931) concluded that " [t] he third degree--that is, the use of physical brutality, or other forms of cruelty, to obtain involuntary confessions or admissions--is widespread." [cite web | title = Records of the Wickersham Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement |url = http://www.lexisnexis.com/academic/guides/jurisprudence/wickersham.asp | publisher = LexisNexis | author = University Publications of America | date = 1997-12 | accessdate = 2007-09-05 ] In the years following the report, landmark legal judgements such as Brown v. Mississippi helped to cement a legal obligation to respect the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. [cite web |author=United States Supreme Court |title=BROWN et al. v. STATE OF MISSISSIPPI. |url=http://www.injusticeline.com/brown.html |work= |publisher=www.injusticeline.com |date=1936-02-17 |accessdate=2007-09-05 ]

In the 1960s, the African-American Civil Rights Movement had to overcome numerous incidents of police brutality in its struggle for justice and racial equality, notably during the Birmingham campaign of 1963-64 and during the Selma to Montgomery marches of 1965. Media coverage of the brutality sparked national outrage, and public sympathy for the movement grew rapidly as a result. Martin Luther King Jr. criticized police brutality in speeches. During this time, the Black Panther Party formed in response to police brutality from disproportionately white police departments against African American communities. ["The Black Panthers" by Jessica McElrath, published as a part of [http://afroamhistory.about.com/od/blackpanthers/a/blackpanthers.htm afroamhistory.about.com] , accessed on December 17, 2005.] The conflict between the BPP and various police departments often resulted in violence with the murder of 34 members of the BPP [from an interview with Kathleen Cleaver on May 7 2002 published by the PBS program P.O.V. and being published in "Introduction to Black Panther 1968: Photographs by Ruth-Marion Baruch and Pirkle Jones", (Greybull Press). [http://www.pbs.org/pov/pov2004/apantherinafrica/special_photo.html] ] and 15 police officers. [ [http://www.odmp.org/officer.php?oid=4764 The Officer Down Memorial] ]

During the Vietnam War, anti-war demonstrations were sometimes quelled through the use of billy-clubs and CS gas, commonly known as tear gas. The most notorious of these assaults took place during the August 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The actions of the police were later described as a "police riot" in the Walker Report to the U.S. National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence. [cite book | last = Walker | first = Daniel | editor = Johnson | title = Rights in Conflict: The violent confrontation of demonstrators and police in the parks and streets of Chicago during the week of the Democratic National Convention of 1968. A report submitted by Daniel Walker, director of the Chicago Study Team, to the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence.
year = 1968 | publisher = Braceland Brothers | pages = 233

As was the case with Prohibition during the 1920s and 1930s, the "War on Drugs" initiated by President Richard M. Nixon in 1969 has been marked by increased police misconduct. Critics contend that a "holy war" mentality [cite news | title = Has the Drug War Created an Officer Liars' Club? |url = http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/debate/mcn/mcn6.htm | publisher = Los Angeles Times | author = Joseph D. McNamara | date = 1996-02-11 | accessdate = 2007-09-06 ] has helped to nurture a "new militarized style of policing" where "confrontation has replaced investigation.". [cite news | title = Kill Zone |url = http://www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=39486 | publisher = WorldNetDaily.com | author = Joel Miller | date = 2004-07-17 | accessdate = 2007-09-06 ]

In the United States, race and police brutality continue to be closely linked, and the phenomenon has sparked a string of race riots over the years. Especially notable among these incidents was the uprising caused by the arrest and beating of Rodney King on March 3, 1991 by officers of the Los Angeles Police Department. The atmosphere was particularly volatile because the brutality had been videotaped by a bystander and widely broadcast afterwards. When the four law enforcement officers charged with assault and other charges were acquitted, the 1992 Los Angeles Riots broke out.

Numerous human rights observers have raised concerns about increased police brutality in the U.S. in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center. An extensive report prepared for the United Nations Human Rights Committee tabled in 2006 states that in the United States, the "War on Terror" has "created a generalized climate of impunity for law enforcement officers, and contributed to the erosion of what few accountability mechanisms exist for civilian control over law enforcement agencies. As a result, police brutality and abuse persist unabated and undeterred across the country." [cite web | title = In the Shadows of the War on Terror: Persisitent Police Brutality and Abuse in the United States |url = http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cerd/docs/ngos/usa/USHRN15.pdf | publisher = United Nations Committee on Human Rights | format=PDF date = 2006-06 | accessdate = 2007-09-11 ]

Other countries

In recent years, police brutality has often flared at global summits where protesters have sought to challenge the legitimacy of various institutions of economic globalization such as the WTO, the World Bank, the IMF, the G8, and international trade regimes such as the NAFTA and the FTAA. Crowd control efforts at these events are often characterized by the use of "less-than-lethal" means of force, such as CS gas, plastic bullets, Tasers, and police dogs.

Incidence in the United States

While the prevalence of police brutality in the United States is not comprehensively documented, statistics on the use of physical force by law enforcement are available. For example, an extensive U.S. Department of Justice report on police use of force released in 2001 indicated that in 1999, "approximately 422,000 people 16 years old and older were estimated to have had contact with police in which force or the threat of force was used." [cite web | title = Contacts between Police and the Public: Findings from the 1999 National Survey | url = http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/press/cpp99pr.htm | publisher = Bureau of Justice Statistics |date= 2001-03-21 | accessdate - 2007-08-27 ]

Statistics on police brutality are much less available. The few statistics that exist include a 2006 Department of Justice report, which showed that out of 26,556 citizen complaints about excessive use of police force among large U.S. agencies (representing 5% of agencies and 59% of officers) in 2002, about 2000 were found to have merit. [cite web | title = Citizen Complaints about Police Use of Force | url = http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/abstract/ccpuf.htm | publisher = Bureau of Justice Statistics | author = Matthew Hickman |date= 2006-06-26 | accessdate - 2007-08-27 ]

Other studies have shown that most police brutality goes unreported. In 1982, the federal government funded a "Police Services Study" in which over 12,000 randomly selected citizens were interviewed in three metropolitan areas. The study found that 13 percent of those surveyed claimed to have been victims of police brutality the previous year. Yet only 30 percent of those who acknowledged such brutality filed formal complaints. [cite web | title = Fighting Police Abuse: A Community Action Manual | url = http://www.aclu.org/police/gen/14614pub19971201.html | publisher = American Civil Liberties Union |date= 1997-12-01 | accessdate - 2007-08-06 ] A 1998 Human Rights Watch report stated that in all 14 precincts which it examined, the process of filing a complaint was "unnecessarily difficult and often intimidating." [cite web | title = Shielded from Justice: Police Brutality and Accountability in the United States | url = http://www.hrw.org/reports98/police/uspo20.htm | publisher = Human Rights Watch |month= June | year= 1998 | accessdate - 2007-08-08 ]

Police brutality can be associated with racial profiling. Differences in race, religion, politics, or socioeconomic status sometimes exist between police and the citizenry. Some police officers may view the population (or a particular subset thereof) as generally deserving punishment. Portions of the population may perceive the police to be oppressors. In addition, there is a perception that victims of police brutality often belong to relatively powerless groups, such as minorities, the young, and the poor. [cite book | last = Powers | first = Mary D. | editor = Winters, Paul A. | title = Policing the Police | year = 1995 | publisher = Greenhaven Press | location = San Diego | id = ISBN 1-56510-262-2 | pages = 56–60 | chapter = Civilian Oversight Is Necessary to Prevent Police Brutality ]

Recent Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reports confirm that prison guard brutality is common in the U.S. A 2006 Human Rights Watch report revealed that five state prison systems permit the use of aggressive, unmuzzled dogs on prisoners as part of cell removal procedures. [cite web | title = Cruel and Degrading: The Use of Dogs for Cell Extractions in U.S. Prisons | url = http://hrw.org/reports/2006/us1006/ | publisher = Human Rights Watch |year= 2006 | accessdate - 2007-08-08 ]

Incidence in other countries

The Amnesty International 2007 report on human rights also documents widespread police misconduct in many other countries, especially countries with authoritarian regimes.


Police officers are legally permitted to use force, and their superiors expect them to do so when appropriate. According to Skolnick, in dealing largely with disorderly elements of the society, some people working in law enforcement may gradually develop an attitude or sense of authority over society, particularly under traditional reaction-based policing models; in some cases the police believe that they are above the law. [cite book | last = Skolnick | first = Jerome H. | coauthors = Fyfe, James D. | editor = Winters, Paul A. | title = Policing the Police | year = 1995 | publisher = Greenhaven Press | location = San Diego | id = ISBN 1-56510-262-2 | pages = 45–55 | chapter = Community-Oriented Policing Would Prevent Police Brutality ]

However, this "bad apple paradigm" is considered by some to be an "easy way out". A broad report commissioned by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police on the causes of misconduct in policing calls it "a simplistic explanation that permits the organization and senior management to blame corruption on individuals and individual faults – behavioural, psychological, background factors, and so on, rather than addressing systemic factors."cite web | last = Loree | first = Don | title = Corruption in Policing: Causes and Consequences; A Review of the Literature | work = Research and Evaluation Community, Contract and Aboriginal Policing Services Directorate | publisher = Royal Canadian Mounted Police | date = 2006 | url = http://dsp-psd.pwgsc.gc.ca/Collection/PS64-27-2006E.pdf | format = PDF | accessdate = 2007-09-01 ] The report goes on to discuss the systemic factors, which include
* pressures to conform to certain aspects of "police culture", such as the Blue Code of Silence which can "sustain an oppositional criminal subculture protecting the interests of police who violate the law" [cite journal | last = Skolnick | first = Jerome H. | title = Corruption and the Blue Code of Silence | journal = Police Practice and Research | volume = 3(1) | date = 2002 | pages = 7] and a "'we-they' perspective in which outsiders are viewed with suspicion or distrust"
* command and control structures with a rigid hierarchical foundation ("results indicate that the more rigid the hierarchy, the lower the scores on a measure of ethical decision-making" concludes one study reviewed in the report); [cite journal | last = Owens | first = Katherine M. B. | coauthors = Jeffrey Pfeifer | title = Police Leadership and Ethics: Training and Police Recommendations | journal = The Canadian Journal of Police and Security Services | volume = 1(2) | pages = 7 | date = 2002] and
* deficiencies in internal accountability mechanisms (including internal investigation processes).

Some members of the public may in fact perceive the use of force by police as excessive even when the force used is appropriate. Police use of force is kept in check in many jurisdictions by the issuance of a use of force continuum. [cite book | last = Stetser | first = Merle | title = The Use of Force in Police Control of Violence: Incidents Resulting in Assaults on Officers |year= 2001 | publisher = LFB Scholarly Publishing L.L.C. | location = New York | id = ISBN 1-931202-08-7 ] A use of force continuum sets levels of force considered appropriate in direct response to a subject's behavior. This power is granted by the civil government, with limits set out in statutory law as well as common law.

Another factor contributing to persistent police brutality is the increased death rate for police officers in the line of duty in recent years. Reports of brutality are most prevalent in areas where both officers and criminals are heavily armed and where both violent and property crime rates are high.Fact|date=June 2008


In the United States, investigation of cases of police brutality has often been left to internal police commissions and/or district attorneys (DAs). Internal police commissions have often been criticized for a lack of accountability and for bias favoring officers, as they frequently declare upon review that the officer(s) acted within the department's rules, or according to their training. For instance, a study focusing on the Chicago Police Department which was conducted in April 2007 found that out of more than 10,000 complaints of police abuse that were filed between 2002 and 2004, only 19 resulted in meaningful disciplinary action. The study charges that the police department's oversight body allows officers with "criminal tendencies to operate with impunity," and argues that the Chicago Police Department should not be allowed to police itself. [cite news | title = Study: Police abuse goes unpunished |url = http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=6125 | publisher = Medill School, Northwestern University, Chicago | author = Ryan Gallagher | date = 2007-04-04 | accessdate = 2007-09-04 ]

The ability of district attorneys to investigate police brutality has also been called into question, as DAs depend on help from police departments to bring cases to trial. It was only in the 1990s that serious efforts began to be made to transcend the difficulties of dealing with systemic patterns of misconduct in police departments.

Beyond police departments and DAs, other mechanisms of government oversight have gradually evolved. The Rodney King case triggered the creation of the Independent Commission on the Los Angeles Police Department, informally known as the Christopher Commission, in 1991. The commission, mandated to investigate the practices of the LAPD, uncovered disturbing patterns of misconduct and abuse, but the reforms it recommended were put on hold. Meanwhile, media reports revealed a frustration in dealing with systemic abuse in other jurisdictions as well, such as New York and Pittsburgh. Selwyn Raab of the New York Times wrote about how the "Blue Code of Silence among police officers helped to conceal even the most outrageous examples of misconduct." [cite news | title = The Dark Blue Code of Silence |url = http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/02/08/home/15700.html | publisher = New York Times | author = Selwyn Raab | date = 1993-05-02 | accessdate = 2007-08-27 ]

It was within this climate that the police misconduct provision of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 was created, authorizing the Attorney General to "file lawsuits seeking court orders to reform police departments engaging in a pattern or practice of violating citizens' federal rights." [cite web | title = Conduct of Law Enforcement Agencies |url = http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/split/police.htm | publisher = U.S. Department of Justice | author = Civil Rights Division | date = 2007-08-16 | accessdate = 2007-08-27 ] As of January 31 2003, the Department of Justice has used this provision to negotiate reforms in eleven jurisdictions across the U.S. (Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, Steubenville Police Department, New Jersey State Police, Los Angeles Police Department, District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department, Highland Park Police Department, Cincinnati Police Department, Columbus Police Department, Buffalo Police Department, Mount Prospect, Illinois Police Department, and the Montgomery County, Maryland Police Department). [cite web | title = Department of Justice Police Misconduct Pattern or Practice Program |url = http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/split/faq.htm#pppmp.htm | publisher = U.S. Department of Justice | author = Civil Rights Division | date = 2003-01-01 | accessdate = 2007-08-27 ]

In the United Kingdom, an independent organization known as the Independent Police Complaints Commission investigates reports of police misconduct. They automatically investigate any deaths caused by, or thought to be caused by, police action.

Prevention and redress

Independent oversight

Various community groups have criticized police brutality. These groups often stress the need for oversight by independent citizen review boards and other methods of ensuring accountability for police action.

Copwatch is a U.S.-based network of organizations that actively monitors and videotapes the police to prevent police brutality. Umbrella organizations and justice committees (often named after a deceased individual or those victimized by police violence) usually engage in a solidarity of those affected. Amnesty International is another organization active in the issue of police brutality.

Tools used by these groups include video recordings, which are sometimes broadcast using websites such as YouTube. [cite news | title = YouTube.com prompts police beating probe | url = http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory?id=2645350&CMP=OTC-RSSFeeds0312 | publisher = Associated Press | last = Veiga | first = Alex |date= November 11, 2006 | accessdate = 2006-11-12 ]

Legislation protecting against police brutality


*Section Seven of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms - protects an individual's autonomy and legal rights and guarantees due process
*Section Eight of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms - protects against unreasonable searches and seizures
*Section Nine of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms - against arbitrary detainment and imprisonment. The provision is invoked in the criminal law context generally where a police officer who stops, detains, arrests or otherwise restrains a suspect without reasonable grounds.
*Section Ten of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms - specifies rights upon arrest or detention, including the rights to consult a lawyer and the right to habeas corpus.

United States

*Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution - protects against unreasonable searches and seizures
*Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution - includes the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses
*Civil Rights Act of 1871 - this has evolved into a key U.S. law in brutality cases (see: " [http://www.constitution.org/brief/forsythe_42-1983.htm A guide to civil rights liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983] " for a detailed analysis of the section which is now of central relevance in excessive force lawsuits)
*Federal Tort Claims Act - key U.S. law in brutality cases (particularly those which hinge upon negligence claims)


The word "brutality" has several meanings; the sense used here (savage cruelty) was first used in 1633 [Oxford English Dictionary] . The first known use of the term "police brutality" was in the New York Times in 1893 [cite news | title = Police officers in trouble: Charges against policeman McManus by his sergeant | publisher = New York Times | date= June 23, 1893 ] , describing a police officer's beating of a civilian.

Notable cases of police brutality

See: List of cases of police brutality

ee also

*Police misconduct
*Police riot
*Prisoner abuse
*State terrorism
*Christopher Commission
*International Day Against Police Brutality (March 15)
*Civil rights
*Civil liberties


External links

* [http://www.thumperwatch.org Police Abuse, Brutality and Misconduct in America]
* [http://Ihatepolice.com Ihatepolice.com video and news collections on police brutality and other misconduct]
* [http://web.amnesty.org/report2005/index-eng Amnesty International 2005 World Report]
* [http://PoliceCrimes.com PoliceCrimes.com: News on police brutality and other police misconduct]
* [http://copbrutality.com Bringing awareness of Excessive Force, Malicious Prosecution and Police Brutality.]
* [http://www.dirtycopspot.com/index.php/2007/11/18/police-beat-down-an-old-man/ Documented Video relating to Police Brutality - 2003]
* [http://members.fortunecity.com/brutalitycanada/names.html Names of Victims of Police Brutality In Canada]
* [http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/6174/polbrutality2001.html Police Misconduct, Brutality and Use of Force in Canada - 2001] - includes links to lists for Canadian brutality victims in years going back to 1975
* [http://www.october22.org/StolenLivesProject.html Stolen Lives Project] - project documenting cases of killings by U.S. law enforcement
* [http://www.copwatch.org/ Copwatch Project] Includes the Copwatch Database: a permanent, searchable repository of complaints filed against police officers.
* [http://roastapig.blogspot.com/ Roast A Pig] Help Expose Police Brutality.
* [http://www.policeabuse.co.za/index.html South African site where you can report police abuse.]

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