What is Excessive Force?

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  • Written By: Jacob Queen
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 28 January 2020
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Excessive force is a term used to describe inappropriate use of violence by law enforcement officers. In terms of legalities, excessive force is not strictly defined, and it's usually based on a general set of guidelines. Some law enforcement officers have strict requirements about certain weapons and techniques, but in most cases, officers have a wide latitude, and they are expected to use good judgment. The general guideline about excessive force relates to how much resistance the officer is receiving. The force is expected to be reasonable in comparison to the resistance received, and officers are only allowed to escalate their level of violence if the danger is increased.

In many areas, there are very strict "level of force" escalation orders. For example, officers are usually supposed to start with warnings and then gradually escalate through a series of increases in force, gradually working their way up to deadly force. In many areas, the officer isn’t allowed to escalate his level of force until the suspect escalates his first, and this sort of regulation helps avoid costly lawsuits and violations of human rights.


One problem that leads to force violations are the emotional stresses involved in law enforcement jobs. Some of the most extreme violations of excessive force law can happen after high-speed chases. These kinds of chases can put law enforcement officers into a state of extreme agitation and fear. When people are this upset, they may act out in a violent fashion, and they will often use excessive force when arresting someone. Some of the most egregious violations in cases like this may involve officers attacking suspects after they’ve been handcuffed and rendered helpless.

There are many legal accusations regarding excessive force on a yearly basis, but the vast majority of them don’t lead to convictions. Some critics argue that this is mostly because law enforcement officers receive unfair special treatment by the legal system. Some also argue that even when excessive force is proven, officers are often given light punishments, which may encourage more officers to offend.

One of the driving forces behind many major excessive force cases has been the news media. Since the invention of inexpensive portable video cameras, there have been several incidents where regular people have captured video footage of police being brutal with suspects. These kinds of cases have increased awareness of excessive force with the public, and some have led to more restrictive rules in certain police districts.


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