The Police

VI. Critical Issues and High-Risk Activities

Given the large number of issues that exist in policing today, this discussion must be limited to the most important ones. The approach here is therefore selective and focuses on a limited number of critical issues: minority hiring and promotion, women in policing, the use of force, and pursuit driving.

A. Minorities in Policing

Tremendous strides have been made in hiring minorities in recent years. Since the mid-1990s, police agencies have increased significantly the hiring and promoting of minority officers.

Advocates for the hiring and promoting of minorities argue that if minorities are adequately represented in police departments, departments become representative of the communities they serve. Police departments that reflect the racial and ethnic characteristics of the communities they serve may increase the respect of community residents and thereby increase the flow of information concerning crime and the identification of criminals. Similar to ethnic minorities, females have not played an important role in law enforcement until relatively recently.

Until the early 1980s, the few females who were involved in police work were often assigned to clerical duties or restricted to work with either female or juvenile offenders. The reasons for this exclusion were many: First, male officers did not want to put up with the social inhibitions placed on them by the presence of women; second, they did not want to be overshadowed by or even to take orders from women; finally, most men did not want to be supported by a female in the performance of potentially dangerous work (Caiden, 1977; Martin, 2001). The common belief was that females would not function to the level of their male counterparts—specifically, that they would react improperly and would not be able to apprehend suspects in violent or dangerous situations. Recently, the myths about women in the police world have been debunked, and benefits connected with recruiting more female officers have been stressed. For example, female officers are often better than male officers at avoiding violence and de-escalating potentially violent situations. Moreover, while women currently represent approximately 13% of all sworn personnel, they are responsible for only 5% of citizen complaints, 2% of sustained allegations of excessive use of force, and 6% of the dollars paid out in judgments and settlements for excessive use of force (National Center for Women in Policing, 2002).

The next issue is the use of force by police officers, which often is handled more appropriately by female officers than by their male counterparts. The use of force is a highly controversial issue, and this examination will look at both the problems connected to it and some of the potential solutions that can prevent the abuse of this most necessary of police powers.

B. Use of Non-Deadly Force

The use of force, particularly deadly force, has traditionally been one of the most controversial aspects of police work. Clearly, a distinction must be made between appropriate police use of force and excessive force. While some level of force is legitimate and necessary to control suspects and protect innocent citizens, the use of excessive force is unacceptable and is one of the most troubling forms of police misconduct. New technologies, such as the Electronic Control Device or the Conducted Energy Device, provide police officers with alternatives to traditional batons, fists, and fights. While these technologies can lead to fewer injuries than traditional uses of force, they also create their own issues, such as device malfunctions that have been linked to several deaths. Although a disproportionate amount of media attention is given to the use of force by the police, it is a rare event considering the numerous times police officers have encounters with citizens.

To understand police use of force, it is important to examine the sequence of events as they unfold in police– citizen interactions. The way to accomplish this task is to understand how the levels of force and resistance, and the sequence in which they take place, affect the outcome of the encounter. This effort requires using detailed information on the sequence of actions and reactions to make sense of the interaction process of the encounter (Alpert & Dunham, 2004).

Alpert and Dunham (2004) have formulated an interaction theory to help understand police use of force and the overall interaction processes between officers and citizens that lead to using force. The authority maintenance theory depicts the police–citizen encounter as an interaction process that is somewhat unique because authority dominates the process and it is more asymmetrical than in most other interactions. Another aspect of police–citizen interactions, according to the theory, is that the expectations and behaviors of these actors are more likely to violate the principle of reciprocity, an important function of human interactions. Officers are more likely to resort to using force when suspects block the officers from reaching their goals concerning the outcome of the encounter. Likewise, citizens respond to the blockage of their goals with varying degrees of resistance. The resistance/force sequence typically escalates until one party changes the other’s expected goals voluntarily or involuntarily.

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