Public Misunderstandings Regarding Police Force

By Chip Kain

A protestor in Ferguson, Mo., recently marched holding a sign that read “STOP KILLING US.”  Police could respond with a simple statement, too:  “STOP ATTEMPTING TO KILL US, AND WE WILL.”

A protester in Ferguson, Mo., asks for the police to stop using violence.  The riots and protests in the small town followed the shooting of an unarmed suspect by a police officer.

A protester in Ferguson, Mo., asks for the police to stop using deadly force. The riots and protests in the small town followed the shooting of an unarmed suspect by a police officer.  Statistics show that law enforcement officers do not use excessive force regularly in the United States.


Police officers are required to do an increasingly difficult, if not impossible, job and they are required to do it in a climate where split-second decisions made under unbelievable stress are second guessed by an uneducated public, politicians, and law enforcement administrators with varying degrees of knowledge and ample time to pick apart decisions made on the street.


Ultimately, the belief that police brutality and excessive force are a problem in the United States is simply wrong.  The belief that police routinely overuse force is a dangerous myth, one that perpetuates stereotypes of the racist heavy handed cop who is quick to result to violence to solve problems, when the opposite is reality.  The belief that the police are often too heavy handed is one that is tearing apart one small town in Missouri and dividing a nation along racial lines and creating an “us versus them” mentality between the public and law enforcement.


A police officer shot, and killed, Michael Brown in Ferguson, and a national movement against police brutality and local rioting followed the revelation the 18 year old adult male was unarmed when he was killed by a Ferguson police officer.  Whether the media finds it relevant or not, Brown was a violent criminal, who used his size and stature to intimidate a storekeeper during a robbery for tobacco products and he was also a user of narcotics.  The former was revealed in a video of Brown committing a robbery and the latter was leaked to the press from the official autopsy.


Ferguson is a municipality near St. Louis with a population of more than 21,000 persons.  Since the 1990 census, when the city was more than 70 percent white, Ferguson underwent a major demographic change to more than 70 percent black. Obviously, the killing of a young adult male, who happened to be black, by a white police officer sparked outrage; however it is important to remember Michael Brown is dead and no amount of protesting or destruction of property will ever bring him back to life. Brown, age 18, was not a “teenager” per se, he was an adult at the time he assaulted a Ferguson police officer and attempted to illegally disarm the law enforcement officer.  It seems from reports from law enforcement in Missouri that Brown made the decision to assault a police officer, with tragically permanent ramifications including the loss of his life.


Allowing the assumption that the officer in the Ferguson situation was in the process of making an arrest based upon probable cause or an investigative detention based upon reasonable suspicion, on the surface, the use of deadly force appears to be justified legally, regardless of how upsetting this situation is to the people of Ferguson.


The most recent statistics provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation hold that local police officers kill more than 400 people each year in the line of duty; however, the latest statistics from 2012 show that 48 law enforcement officers were killed feloniously in the line of duty.  Even more overwhelming, roughly 10 percent of police officers in the United States (approximately 52,000 out of 520,000-plus lawmen) were assaulted by criminals in 2012, with 14,678 officers sustaining injuries.  Of the officers injured in 2012 (the last year for which complete data is available from the FBI), 15 percent were assaulted during arrests.  Of all the assaults on law enforcement officers, 80.2 percent were attacked by unarmed persons using “personal weapons” that include hands, feet, and other body parts.
Screen Shot 2014-08-19 at 9.08.43 PMBut how often is force used or threatened against the citizenry in the U.S.?  The United States Department of Justice estimated that in 2008 police used or threatened to use force in only 1.4 percent of 40-million encounters with the public, an astonishingly low number if one is to believe the police brutality hype gripping the nation.  Further, statistics released in 2002 by the DOJ showed that only about 8 percent out of complaints of excessive force “justified disciplinary action.”  Assuming a constant rate of complaints and a constant rate of sustained excessive force allegations, out of the almost 40-million citizen contacts in 2008, far less than one percent involved the use of excessive force by police.


Images of excessive force and brutality do come to mind- such as the Danziger Bridge incident following Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans where police officers fired their weapons upon a group of unarmed persons that posed no threat to the officers and subsequently covered up the truth and concocted a story that vindicated the officers involved- temporarily until the truth came to light.  Those incidents in law enforcement are few and far between when the numbers are considered.


What the people in Ferguson, as well as all other protesters across the nation rallying against the supposedly rampant problem of police brutality, need to do is educate themselves about the very issue that has them so upset.  Instead of arming themselves with bricks, firearms, and Molotov cocktails, they should arm themselves with the knowledge that the police interact with a very small number of people each year, threaten or use force against a small percentage of those people, and use excessive force in an even smaller number of occurrences.


Those upset with Brown’s death ask how a police officer can use a firearm against an unarmed person, a question that is difficult to answer precisely without all the facts; however, police officers use case law from the Supreme Court of the United States, including Graham v. Connor (1989), which guides officers to consider the seriousness of a suspect’s crime, whether he poses a threat, and whether he is resisting arrest by fighting the police or attempting to flee apprehension.


The current push in law enforcement is professionalism, and the numbers clearly show police officers in the United States constantly perform their duties within the parameters set forth by the courts and the laws of the land.  The crowds of protestors want justice that includes an indictment of the officer involved in the shooting of Michael Brown, but the statistics (and apparently from news reports the witnesses of the encounter between Brown and the officer) tend to suggest the shooting was likely within the professional standards of acceptable police practice.


Police force should be continuously scrutinized by law enforcement leaders and citizens, but the force should be analyzed by those who are educated in what is allowed under the law and what is reasonable.  Anyone is capable of educating himself and the necessary court cases that set out the guidelines for force are posted online.  Take a few hours to read the law and talk to a police officer and find out what reasonable force looks like when employed by law enforcement officials.


At the end of the day, if communities disagree with the current parameters on the use of force by police officers, they can vote for representatives and government executives who can change the laws, but handcuffing police officers by restricting the use of reasonable force endangers both officers and the public at large.


Police force is never attractive on television, but sometimes ugly scenarios, while completely legal, are just ugly.  People sometimes take offense to use of force situations, but more often than not, the police are unfairly attacked and criticized for doing their jobs professionally.  Unfortunately not everyone submits to lawful police authority and in order to prevent chaos and anarchy in society, those who choose to resist arrest must be arrested making the use of force necessary.  The police officer does not choose for a criminal to resist his lawful authority, the criminal makes that choice. The officer makes the choice as to the force used, and as the statistics show, officers normally choose correctly, regardless of what the activists and protesters state to the contrary.



Filed under Fourth Amendment, Use of Force

The Case for Providing for Both Rehabilitation and Punishment

By Chip Kain
Issues in Justice Managing Editor

We do it bigger.

In the United States, we take pride in doing things bigger and better than other nations.  We take great pride in the words “Made in America” and we have a national pride unlike any other group of people.  Americans love freedom in this country as well.  In fact, the founding fathers were so incredibly rabid about freedom that they essentially severed ties with the British Crown for a tax levied on a beverage, among other reasons.

For the emphasis on freedom in the U.S., the incarceration rate is surprisingly high to many people in the criminal justice field that are not well-versed on the topic of corrections, crime and punishment, or criminal justice in general.  In fact, there are approximately 500 out of every 100,000 people incarcerated in the U.S. right now, with an even higher rate per 100,000 incarcerated in the southeastern states (Tsai & Scommegna, 2012).  From 1972-2009, the nation became adept at putting increasing numbers of people in prison, with the first slight decrease coming in 2010 (Tsai & Scommegna, 2012).  Further, the U.S. incarcerates more persons by rate than some of the less-free nations like China and Russia, winning our country the title of highest incarceration rate in the World (Tsai & Scommegna, 2012).

There is one common thread tying most offenders together that are incarcerated in the United States, and it isn’t the types of crime they’ve committed, their education levels, or their socio-economic status.  In fact, it doesn’t have anything to do with the inmates themselves at all.  Indeed, politicians and voters alike prefer get-tough approaches when dealing with society’s criminal element, but there is obviously something that isn’t working correctly when the system continually engages in incarceration, but can’t house inmates indefinitely.  The one thing most inmates have in common is that they will, one day, be set free.

Most offenders who are sentenced to terms of incarceration in the criminal justice system will find themselves in a position to be released from prison, either by the full execution of their sentences or by paroling out of the institutions in which they are serving their time, making reentry programs critical to their success outside the walls (Wikoff, Linhorst, & Morani, 2012).   The enhancement of reentry programs is critical due to the ever-rising cost of housing inmates in penal institutions; however, these costs are further increased when inmates return to the system as repeat offenders (Wikoff, Linhorst, & Morani, 2012). If inmates are likely to reoffend, the problem is magnified even further by the simple fact that inmates are being released almost as quickly as others can be locked up (Travis, Crayton, & Mukamal, 2009).

While some programs have specific focuses such as giving offenders the skills they need to enter the workplace, others focus on education, mental health, and substance abuse counseling in order to prepare inmates for the challenges they will face in society upon their release (Wikoff, Linhorst, & Morani, 2012). Wikoff, Linhorst, and Morani (2012) argue that these programs are successful in their own right, but that each program or a combination thereof must be utilized in order to match the offender with the services that will best suit his needs and reduce the chance he will reoffend, violate his parole, and use narcotics.  Inmates need to be involved in the process of reentry almost from the very moment they step foot inside a correctional facility, and the process should target those inmates whose risk of reoffending is the highest (Travis, Crayton, & Mukamal, 2009).  Safeguards should also be set in order to accurately judge whether a particular reentry program is meeting its goals (Travis, Crayton, & Mukamal, 2009).

As stated in the question for this week’s discussion assignment, one of the ultimate goals of any program is to reduce the rate at which inmates return to their respective correctional facilities, which would indicate that there is little correction and mostly punishment taking place inside institutions; however, Wikoff, Linhorst and Morani (2012) argued that programs should not simply begin once an inmate is released into society, they should instead begin while the offender is incarcerated so that the therapy methods and programs have a chance to benefit the recipient long before he is forced to cope with issues that come from newfound freedom.

Creating social service programming in correctional facilities is obviously a necessity in modern prisons, but there is pushback to the programming at times, especially with regard to laws and policies that have been enacted in some places that keeps those locked up literally locked out of the programs that could help keep them out of prison upon their release (Wikoff, Linhorst, & Morani, 2012).  Similarly, prisons and those in the criminal justice and corrections fields should seek partners involved in local, state, and federal governance in order to pass legislation that levels the playing field for the recently-freed inmates as the attempt to find employment (Travis, Crayton, &Mukamal, 2009).  An action as simple as requiring businesses to cease the ages-old practice of asking applicants about their criminal and jail history could afford more former inmates and convicts the opportunity to work a job they would have otherwise not been selected for due to the economy (Travis, Crayton, & Mukamal, 2009).

As a society, we must take responsibility for the situations we find ourselves in, and helping prisoners to reintegrate into society is something that we must place an emphasis on moving forward.  A very large number of inmates have very little education, as noted by Tsai and Scommegna (2012), so perhaps education inside penal facilities is an appropriate place to start.

The current system seems to be broken and no one is willing to step up and fix it.  Until it is fixed, incarceration rates will continue to rise and crime will continue to be a problem.


Travis, J., Crayton, A., & Mukamal, D. (2009). A new era in inmate reentry. Corrections Today, 71(6), 38-41.

Tsai, T., & Scommegna, P. (2012, August). U.S. has World’s highest incarceration rate. Retrieved December 2013, from

Wikoff, N., Linhorst, , & Morani, N. (2012). Recidivism among participants of a reentry program for prisoners released without supervision. Social Work Research, 36(4), 289-299. doi:10.1093/swr/svs021


Filed under Policy

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Raising the Bar: Emphasizing Education in Law Enforcement Recruiting

By Chip Kain
Issues in Justice Managing Editor

It seems like buzzwords and concepts dominate virtually every aspect of modern American society.  Professionalism is not only a buzzword; it is a concept that is permeating law enforcement agencies across the nation, especially in the wake of large civil penalties and public embarrassments.

Pinizzotto, Bohrer, and Davis (2011) noted that professionalism is a product that is achieved through training, beginning with the officer’s initial academy training, continuing with his inservice training, and then culminating with training he will receive as his career progresses into command and administrative positions.  Training is a good way to ensure that new recruits and veteran officers alike maintain professional standards, but how important is higher education in promoting professionalism within the law enforcement ranks, especially considering that many departments and states across the nation maintain professional police forces without requiring a basic level of college education for rookie police officers (Hilal, & Erickson, 2010)?


The answer seems that professionalism and education do go hand-in-hand, and the modern demands placed upon police officers requires a more educated basic recruit; however, statistically, law enforcement agencies are not buying into the education-professionalism link, as only about nine percent of departments across the country require post-secondary education for their new officers (Hilal, & Erickson, 2010).  Today’s law enforcement officers are expected to use more than their service weapons and batons to maintain law and order, instead they need to be able to work through complex problems in neighborhoods as the concept of community policingcontinues to dominate policing strategies across the United States (Hilal, & Erickson, 2010).

One of the chief reasons for keeping standards low and not requiring some degree of higher education in new police recruits is that it is difficult to attract the number of candidates needed to keep up with the rate of attrition, which is a problem that even higher-paying agencies are experiencing that require post-secondary education or four year degrees in new officers (Johnson, 2006).  Departments are also concerned that requiring college degrees will negatively impact their ability to recruit and hire minority candidates, thus affecting their departmental diversity (Johnson, 2006).

Departments should subscribe to the philosophy held by the Minnesota Peace Officers Standards and Training board, which set an associate’s degree as the minimum requirement for all police officers in that state in 1977 (Hilal, & Erickson, 2010).  Officers in Minnesota are statistically more educated than the people that they serve and protect, with approximately greater than one-third of officers surveyed in a recent study holding a four-year college degree, compared roughly 27-percent of Minnesotans.  Additionally, approximately 14 percent of officers held a master’s degree, which would indicate that roughly 48 percent of officers in Minnesota are college educated above the junior college level (Hilal, & Erickson, 2010).

Basically, there should be some requirement for entry-level police officers involving a degree of higher education due to increasing demands placed upon police officers, but as Johnson (2006) noted, many departments are afraid of the recruiting ramifications from raising standards.  If recruiting posed a problem, common sense would dictate that departments should invest more in the process, especially if they hope to lure more attractive and professional candidates.  As far as requiring higher education for advancement within a law enforcement agency, Hilal and Erickson’s (2010) study of police attitudes towards education in Minnesota indicates that most officers believe that some level of higher education should be expected in candidates for promotion.  The best argument for requiring higher education in supervisory or administrative positions is that those who are subject to the increased standards and to being managed are the ones indicating that they believe a higher degree of education should be required for those seeking promotion (Hilal, & Erickson, 2010).  Hilal and Erickson (2010) noted that police operations and the requirements placed upon officers are becoming more complex, therefore management decisions would naturally be more complex as well; however, it does not compute to require higher standards for officers while expecting less for those in command of better educated entry level police officers.

The very basic determination that departments need to make is one of importance.  Is filling vacancies with ease in a departments with recruits who do not possess the skills earning a college degree requires more important for the agency or is undertaking the often harder task of recruiting officers from a smaller pool of better-educated citizens the more appropriate response (Johnson, 2006)?  Essentially, is ease in recruiting more important than finding the very best candidates?  Requiring more education in recruits is challenging because not only is the applicant pool smaller and probably somewhat less diverse, agencies almost certainly will have to raise their standards as Johnson (2006) noted, but Pinizzotto, Bohrer, and Davis (2011) acknowledged that departments have the choice to grow professionally or face the consequences that come from lowering standards when communities are expecting the opposite.


Hilal, S. M., & Erickson, T. E. (2010). The Minnesota police education requirement: A recent analysis. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, 79(6), 17-21.

Johnson, K. (2006, 18 September). Police agencies find it hard to require degrees. USA Today.  Retrieved from

Pinizzotto, A.J., Bohrer, S., & Davis, E.F. (2011). Law enforcement professionalism. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, 80(4), 10-13.


December 15, 2013 · 5:59 am

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