Police use of force and the determination of the appropriate amount of force have become important topics over the last two decades. The recent growth in public outcries over the misuse of force by police has been significant, making the need for understanding the limits of police force more important than ever. The U.S. Constitution grants police officers the right to use the appropriate amount of force to protect public safety, as well as their own safety. Generally speaking, police officers have the right to use reasonable force and deadly force based on the specific situation that they are faced with. It is important to note that the escalation or de-escalation of a dangerous situation directly affects the amount of police force that is appropriate.
The two types of police force are commonly known as reasonable force and deadly force, respectively. They differ in terms of the level of danger present to justify their use. Reasonable force has a much greater degree of use than deadly force, which can only be used under a few circumstances.
Use of Reasonable Force and When it is Justified and Unjustified
Police officers have discretion to use as much force as is reasonably necessary to make an arrest. The federal government has given officers this discretion to ensure public safety and to maintain the officer's safety. However, if an officer's use of force is unreasonable and unnecessary, the officer may face criminal prosecution as well as a civil suit from the victim. Courts typically determine whether a police officer's use of force is unreasonable by assessing three factors:
- the severity of the crime;
- whether the suspect posed an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury, and
- whether the suspect was resisting or attempting to flee.
Here is an example of unreasonable force: Danny has just robbed a elderly woman on 5th street and begins running down 4th street. Officers Woods and Grover receive a dispatch that a robbery suspect was last seen running down 4th street. The officers drive towards 4th street, where they corner Danny. Initially, Danny resists the arrest. Officer Woods brings Danny to the ground, where Officer Grover handcuffs him. Once handcuffed, Danny stops resisting the arrest. Officer Woods then proceed to kick Danny in the head so he won't resist again.
Due to Danny resisting the arrest, Officer Woods initial takedown of Danny was a reasonable use of force. However, once Danny stopped resisting, use of reasonable force was no longer justified. Officer Woods' kick was an unreasonable use of force.
Use of Deadly Force and When it is Justified ad Unjustified
If a suspect poses a deadly threat to police officers or the public at large, police officers may use deadly force to stop the criminal activity. An example of this would be a situation where a suspect lunged at a police officer with a knife. The officer would be justified in using deadly force to stop the suspect. If the suspect did not have a weapon, and instead, tried to flee the scene, the police officer would not have the right to use deadly force.
Seeking Legal Help
If you believe that you have been the victim of reasonable or excessive use of police force, contact an attorney who has experience trying police brutality cases.