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Violent Police-citizen Encounter

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 1980
11 pages
This article adopts a transactional persective to examine the use of physical force by police officers, focusing on successive decisions by the officer, the citizen, or both that make a violent outcome of a given encounter likely.
Two police traits that are likely to influence the decision to use force are sensitivity to status and suspiciousness of citizens. Sensitivity to status includes the need to maintain respect for authority by violent means if necessary. Suspiciousness develops from fear and a sense of danger in encounters with citizens. The citizens most likely to be involved in violent encounters are black or Hispanic males between the ages of 16 and 30 because these persons commit more assaultive crimes than any other population group, and are much more likely to be armed than their white counterparts. In addition, respect for police is low in minority communities generally. The four stages at which decisions made by the police and citizens may precipitate violence are anticipation of encounter, physical entry onto the scene of the encounter, phase of information exchange between the officer and citizen, and the final decision to use force. The assumption of dual responsibility of police attempts to reduce the inappropriate use of force. Another policy implication is to emphasize interventions in early stages of encounters to alter the officer's decision to use force before the situation has gone too far. A final policy implication is the revision of police review procedures for shooting incidents, which may result in fewer findings of reasonableness. Descriptions of violent encounters and 31 footnotes are supplied. For related articles, see NCJ 75304.

Date Published: January 1, 1980