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Understanding the Prevalence and Severity of Force Used By and Against the Police, Executive Summary

NCJ Number
Date Published
6 pages
Based on confidential self-reports from police officers in 6 law enforcement agencies in late 1996 and early 1997, this study measured the prevalence of the use of physical force as well as the severity of force used by and against the police in 7,512 adult custody arrests.
The data analysis determined the extent to which characteristics of offense situations, police officers, and arrested suspects were associated with an increased prevalence of the use of physical force or increased severity of force. The study found that police officers used some physical force in 17.1 percent of the adult custody arrests, and suspects used some physical force in 11.9 percent of the custody arrests. Using two different measures of force, the study determined that the amount of force used by police was at the low end of severity on each measure of force. Weapons were used by officers in 2.1 percent of all arrests; the weapon most often used by officers was pepper spray. Weaponless tactics were used by officers in 15.8 percent of all arrests; the tactic most often used was grabbing. In 16.4 percent of the arrests, the police officers reported that they did not place handcuffs or any other kind of restraint on the suspect. The study further determined that the prevalence and the severity of the use of force increased when officers made arrests on weekends, responded to priority calls, and used lights and sirens. Younger officers, male officers, and officers with prior job-related injuries used more force. Police also used more force against male suspects, suspects known to carry weapons, and when suspects used physical force to resist officers. The study suggests that future police training and policies might benefit from increased attention to the more frequently used and less severe types of force. Future research on the use of force and its severity might examine the characteristics of law enforcement agencies, their use-of-force policies, and their training programs. 7 tables

Date Published: January 1, 2002