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Police Brutality in the United States


Policing is one of the key elements of the criminal justice system in the United States. Police officers play a crucial role in ensuring order and maintaining security in the country. Just like any other job, policing has its own share of challenges that police officers deal with in the course of their work (Geller & Toch, 2011). Police officers are subject to constant criticism and scrutiny from human rights groups. Human rights groups and other bodies involve themselves a lot in monitoring the conduct of police officers in the United States. One of the main criticisms that police officers in the United States deal with is the accusation of brutality. Police brutality refers to a situation when legal officers abuse their constitutional authorities by applying extreme cruelty when performing their duties.

Studies have established that, contrary to a perception by many people, police brutality causes more than physical harm because victims also suffer psychological pain (Geller & Toch, 2011). According to psychologists, any form of action aimed at intimidating an individual often result in victims developing emotional harm that influences their lives in a negative way. Cases of police brutality have existed for a long time, dating back to the time when the United States experienced the civil rights era. Reports on the history of police brutality in the United States show that during the civil rights era, policing was different from contemporary society. In the past, the law allowed police officers to apply a little cruelty whenever needed, while in contemporary society the law does not support any form of rough treatment from police officers (Nelson, 2001).


Studies show that the rate of police brutality in the United States has been escalating at a high rate. The studies established that more people were losing their lives at the hands of police officers compared to causes such as terrorism. Statistics indicate that people in America have a 29% likelihood of losing their lives from police brutality (Busby, 2012). The nature of crime in contemporary American society could be more complex compared to a few decades ago, but the rate of police cruelty is a frightening reality that requires an instant response strategy. Police departments across the United States have reoriented their priorities, as serious crimes such as terrorism, drug trafficking, human trafficking, and armed robbery have become more sophisticated (Busby, 2012).

Reports on the nature of policing in the country indicate that with such situations to deal with, police officers had to militarize their operations if they wanted to have any meaningful results. It is important to note that police officers are aware of the negative effects of their aggressive and violent approach to law enforcement (Greene, 2007). Most of them are never proud of this approach, although they claim they have no other choices when it comes to fighting crime. Critics of this approach argue that the police have turned to fight their fellow citizens instead of terrorists and drug traffickers (Geller & Toch, 2011).

Causes of police brutality in America

Numerous elements have been associated with the challenge of police brutality in the United States. Criminal justice experts argue that despite the existence of police brutality, certain factors play a crucial role in the development of this phenomenon. Some of the commonly cited driving forces include political orientation, compliance, discreteness, and separation of powers among others (Holmes & Smith, 2008). These causative factors explain the reason behind the development of unethical policing practices in the United States. Studies have established that the kind of police training and management approaches used in contemporary policing has a role to play in the history of this observable fact of rough treatment by law enforcement agencies.

The United States criminal justice system has been criticized for encouraging police brutality (Holmes & Smith, 2008). Provisions applied in the system protect police officers against prosecution whenever they are involved in a crime or associated with one. This undermines the rule of law while promoting the development of bad behavior in law enforcement agencies. Studies have established that very few officers are rightfully subjected to legal procedures when involved in forms of misconduct. In 2009, only a mere 33% of police officers charged with various forms of misconduct went through conviction. Out of those convicted, 64% of them received prison sentences that lasted an average of fourteen months (Holmes & Smith, 2008).

Different political orientations in the United States have led to the development of a culture where the needs and welfare of police officers come before that of citizens who are the majority. Racial discrimination in America has also been one of the main contributing factors to the high rate of police brutality in the country (Holmes & Smith, 2008). Reports indicate that police officer from a certain race can subject those of a different race to brutality because they despise and hold them in low esteem. The scenario can also apply vice versa, as a section of the population can behave in a rude manner towards police officers who belong to a certain race.

Certain acts passed in the United States regarding policing have also contributed to the development of this phenomenon. One such act is the National Prohibition Act (NPA) passed in 1919 (Greene, 2007). Criminal justice experts in the United States argue that NPA has negatively influenced the activities of police officers since its enactment. Statistics indicate that the rate of crime was escalating at a high rate, while police officers began being brutal towards people as the fight against illegal alcohol was stepped up.

Prevalence of police brutality

Although few records indicate the prevalence rate of police brutality in the United States, experts argue that the vice is widespread across the country. Much of the available information comes from the National Police Misconduct Statistics and Reporting Project (NPMSRP) (Moore, 2010). Starting in 2009 to help with collecting data on cases involving police brutality, NPMSRP has played a crucial role in unearthing the rot in police departments across the country. Data collected from the project applies in doing a statistical analysis, which creates a picture of the real situation on the ground. According to reports released by the project in 2010, out of the 5,986 cases of police misconduct reported, 382 of them involved human death (Moore, 2010).

Police brutality is also an expensive affair for the federal and state governments because more than $300,000, 000 million was spent in settling the cases. Some of the most cases of misconduct that police officers are accused of include use of excessive force, sexual misconduct, fraud, false arrest, and raids. Others include lack of accountability, improper use of firearms, and teasing (Nelson, 2001).

Police officers have been accused of lacking accountability because they investigate themselves. The responsibility of investigating cases of police brutality mainly lies with district attorneys. Most of the cases reported about police brutality end up without any meaningful investigations and disciplinary action (Moore, 2010). The prevalence of police brutality across the states is uninformed, as some record-high rates of misconduct compared to others. According to reports released by NPMRSP in 2010, the top five states with the highest rates were Oklahoma, Montana, Vermont, West Virginia, and Tennessee respectively. On the other hand, states with the lowest rates of misconduct were Maine, Arkansas, Kansas, Idaho, and North Dakota respectively (Moore, 2010).


Despite the existence of laws that protect people against police brutality, the vice continues to grow deeper within law enforcement agencies in the United States. The criminal justice system also promotes police brutality. Judges across the country have been subject to criticism for giving light sentences to convicted police officers even on serious crimes. Experts in the United States argue that if the federal government does not develop an effective response strategy to this vice, police officers will slowly turn into taking bribes from the population. The experts also suggest that people need to change their perceptions about police officers as being above the law. People should ensure that all cases of police brutality are reported to the relevant authorities. This leaves the relevant authorities with the hard task of cleaning up their act and giving Americans their due justice by putting the police officers through the rightful legal procedures.


Busby, A. (2012). Police Brutality in America. New York: University of Southern Mississippi.

Geller, W. A., & Toch, H. (2011). Police Violence: Understanding and Controlling Police Abuse of Force. California: Yale University Press.

Greene, J. R. (2007). The Encyclopedia of Police Science. New York: Taylor & Francis.

Holmes, M. D., & Smith, B. W. (2008). Race and Police Brutality: Roots of an Urban Dilemma. New York: SUNY Press.

Moore, L. N. (2010). Black Rage in New Orleans: Police Brutality and African American Activism from World War II to Hurricane Katrina. New York: Louisiana State University.

Nelson, J. (2001). Police Brutality: An Anthology. California: Cambridge University


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