Academic journal article Sociological Viewpoints

Unlawful Justice: An Opinion Study on Police Use of Force and How Views Change Based on Race and Occupation

Academic journal article Sociological Viewpoints

Unlawful Justice: An Opinion Study on Police Use of Force and How Views Change Based on Race and Occupation

Article excerpt

Abstract

The inappropriate use of force by police officers has received a serious discussion in the media and across the nation for some time. For this research, the relationship between race, selected criminal justice occupations, and attitudes toward police use of force was examined using data obtained from the General Social Survey (GSS) for the years 1994 through 2004. The GSS is a representative sample conducted biennially by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. The sample size for this study was 147 respondents. To operationalize attitudes towards police use of force, an index was created from questions measuring specific use of force scenarios. Results from bivariate correlations support the hypothesis that there is a relationship between race, occupation, and attitudes toward police use of force. As expected, white individuals were significantly (29.5%) more accepting of police use of force when a citizen was attempting to escape custody than blacks when analyzed using the chi-squared statistical test (p<.001). Contrary to the hypothesis, lawyers and judges were more tolerant of police use of force than respondents in law enforcement occupations. The results of this study illustrate the importance of criminal justice occupations on attitudes towards police use of force further analyses would be beneficial to explore these relationships further.

Introduction

Consider for a moment, a situation in which a police officer is called to the scene of a domestic disturbance. Upon arriving on the scene, the officer views two people arguing outside of their home. One person is clearly the victim while the other is the aggressor. This aggressor is told by the officer to stop acting up (ie. screaming, running around, throwing objects), but the aggressor refuses to listen. When would it be acceptable for the officer to use force to subdue the person? Does the officer have to warn the person a number of times before getting physical? Does it matter that the aggressor is a female or a male? If the aggressor was female, maybe it would be more acceptable if the officer using force was a female. Would it make a difference whether the person was black or white? Maybe it would be okay to use greate physical force if this person tried to bite the officer? Maybe it would be legitimate if the person doing the biting had AIDS. There are many different situations where police use force against suspects, but when does the public consider it to be justified?

Despite the way mass media presents the subject of police brutality, the occurrences of police use of force cases are not all that common. In a study conducted in 1999 by the United States Department of Justice using the statistics from 7,512 arrests from six urban law enforcement agencies where statistics were compiled on use of force by and against police officers, there were only 52 cases (or .07%) where police officers used weapons in the arrest. The use of weapons includes stick, knife, handgun, chemical agent, rifle/shotgun, motor vehicle, canine, and other. Also in this study, it was found that in 1,184 (or 15.8%) of the arrests, officers used one or more weaponless tactics. Weaponless tactics include spitting, grabbing, arm twisting, wrestling, pushing/shoving, hitting, kicking, biting/scratching, use of pressure hold, carotid hold, control hold, and other tactics. Grabbing was, by a vast margin, the most used weaponless tactic (12.7% or 954 cases), followed by arm twisting (3.7% or 281 cases), and wrestling (3.1% or 233 cases). Other statistics of interest are that in 354 cases, suspects fled on foot, and 128 cases of a suspect fleeing in a car (USDOJ 1999). To some, these statistics could be shocking. They mean, very simply, that police use weaponless tactics or no force at all in the majority of cases, as well as using the less harmful tactics more frequently than those that could cause some more serious public outcry. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.