Assessing the Use of Force among Male and Female Police Officers

Article excerpt

ARTICLE REVIEWED:

Hoffman, P. B. & Hickey, E. R. (2005). Use of force by female police officers. Journal of Criminal Justice, 33, 145-151.

Although first female police officer was hired in the United States in 1910, the initial job description included office work and a focus on specific types of criminal behaviour (i.e., sex crimes and problem youth), as well as a restriction from participating in patrol shifts. This limited role for females, however, was altered in 1972 as the Equal Employment Opportunity Act was implemented, increasing the responsibilities of female police officers (e.g., the inclusion of patrol duties) as well as the percentage of female police officers. As female police officers became increasingly involved in the same assignments as male police officers, perceptions between the two were examined by researchers in a variety of areas including assessing the use of force by male and female police officers against suspects. It was argued that interest in the use of force among male and female police officers is of particular importance in response to the finding of gender differences according to social psychological theories of aggression (Aronson, Wilson, Akert, & Fehr, 2004). Despite the interest in the use of force between male and female police officers, there has been a limited amount of research in this area.

Of the research that has been conducted, Alpert and Dunham (1999) determined that there is no difference between female and male police officer's use of force. In their study, Alpert and Dunham categorized force by creating a use-of-force continuum that the officers generally followed when they were in contact with a suspect. The continuum included the following tactics: verbal commands, handcuffing the suspect, searching the suspect, use of a wrist or arm lock, taking down the suspect, block, punch or kick the suspect, strike the suspect, wrestle the suspect, using pepper spray, using a baton, using their firearm, other tactics, and using multiple tactics. Similarly, Garner, Buchanan, Schade, and Hepburn (1996) found that the highest rate of force used was between male police officers and male suspects while the lowest rate of force was found between female police officers and female suspects. In addition, Worden (1995) found that characteristics of the suspect do not affect the use of force that was used against them.

Due to the increase in the number of women entering the police service, and the limited amount of research focussing on women in the police service, Hoffman and Hickey conducted a seven-year study of the Montgomery County Maryland Police Department to further examine whether there are differences between female and male police officers in the rate of force used against suspects (at the time of the study, the police department was 81.4% male and 18.6% female police). The rate of force used by police officers was examined four different ways by the researchers:

* Use of Force Report Summary Data--a summary of the data collected from the use of force reports was provided to the researchers by the police department. A use of force report was filled out by police officers every time an incident occurred where force was used against the suspect. The information contained in the use of force reports included the date and time of the occurrence, the type of call the police officer was responding to, the type of force that occurred, as well as a description of the injury to the police officer or suspect if any resulted from the use of force.

* Original Use of Force Reports--access to the original use of force reports was provided by the police department for cases in which the data from the above summary information was incomplete.

* Arrest Information--the third source of data came from a computer file which held information relating to the arrest of the suspect. The information included the arrests made at each scene, personal information about the suspect (i. …