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Reports of police brutality and excessive force by police officers have been steadily declining over the last several years. This has resulted from a number of different factors including leadership within the police department, new technology, and better training for officers.
The Police Perception and Use of Force
Reports of police brutality and excessive force by police officers have been steadily declining over the last several years. This has resulted from a number of different factors including leadership within the police department, new technology, and better training for officers. The criminal justice system must maintain a high level of integrity in order to receive the public's trust.
Police in today's society need support from the public to be most effective. Support from the public is necessary for police to demonstrate effective policing and crime control. A few issues that could impede police effectiveness include the public's failure to report criminal activity, and refusal to cooperate with an investigation by not being a witness or failing to serve on a jury because of a lack of confidence and honesty within a police department (Butcher & Hanley, 2011). According to Butcher, when some members of society have a bad attitude toward the police, this could also lead to negative opinions toward other sections of the criminal justice system, such as the courts. For the most part attitudes towards the police are favorable. However, certain populations of the community have different opinions of the police. These different opinions can cause a change in the perception of certain events, such as when police must use force and the incident is somehow televised. Both factors have been found to influence perceptions of the police.
There are many characteristics that could influence the perception of police. The most studied characteristic is race. Most studies conducted on police perception have found that minorities have a much lower perception of the police than Caucasians. The perception of police misconduct is effected by race characteristic. This tends to happen even while taking in to consideration other social factors such as education, employment, and income. Different racial perceptions of the police are most likely caused by experiences that happen between minority citizens and police and also how these encounters are relayed through the media. Other characteristics that have been determined to influence the perception of the police are the nature of the contact between citizens and police, as well as the age and sex of these individuals. Older male individuals tend to have a higher perception of the police while younger individuals and females tend to have a lower perception. A study conducted by Robert Decker in the 1980's argued that involuntary contact with the police can lead to a negative attitude while voluntary contact with the police has not been found to interfere with the police perception.
The public perception is often influenced by the media. Studies have shown that roughly one third of the population has based their perceptions of the police based only on what they see in the media. These accounts are seen either on the television news or read in the newspaper or online articles. Incidents of police violence that have been well publicized have had a drastic negative effect on the police perception. There are also reality television programs such as "Cops" which show the day to day operations of police. Programs such as "Cops" usually show highlight the police in a favorable image resulting with more of a positive perception. Whatever the effect of the media has on an individual, weather positive or negative usually depends on race and other social variables. The media has produced a lasting effect on the public opinion with regards to the job of police. With a few exceptions, most people in society have very little contact with the police. With most people never coming in to contact with police, they tend to base their perceptions by what they have heard or seen through media exposure (Butcher & Hanley, 2011). "The public perception is often influenced by police use of force, especially when these incidents are televised and highly publicized by the media. Public scrutiny of police use of force is unavoidable. The controversy surrounding a violent encounter between police and citizens increases in accordance with higher levels of force used by the officer in the situation" (Pinizzotto & Davis, 2012). Many reports claim a widespread use of excessive force on the part of law enforcement officers. Although cases of excessive force do exist, the notion many excessive force cases tends to be exaggerated.
History shows that a number of citizens throughout the world are now seeking litigation or filing suit against police agencies for violation of civil rights. More often than not the events that generated these complaints could have been avoided. These complains often stem from a department's poor policy or training sections, while some law enforcement agencies fail to recognize the early warning signs. The San Francisco Police Department in California, (SFPD) conducted a study in 1998 in an attempt to understand liability risk following evidence of officer misconduct. The study tried to define whether or not the department had executed the appropriate policies, training procedures, and control measures in place to effectively minimize complaints against the department and its officers for violation of civil rights. The results from the study showed that the department's policies, training procedures, and early warning measures ensured a lower number of misconduct complaints. The lower number of complaints was based on a clear written policy, by establishing the appropriate training outline for officers, and the successful use of early warning systems. The results suggested the SFPD ultimately created an overall lower liability profile, and officer related misconduct (Kinnaird, 2007).
The leadership strategies in police departments today have become essential to a number of categories including community involvement and cooperation, employee-supervisor relationships which can influence the overall quality of service. Traditional policing methods are attempting to change their operations from reactive to more of a proactive strategy such as community policing and intelligence-led policing. With these types of changes it is important for leadership to change as well. Police departments across the country have focused or shifted from leadership at the top of the pyramid to leadership at the bottom level, or frontline supervisors. The power of discretion is given to officers in the field and they are allowed to make decisions without the worries of micromanagement. The discretion in which these frontline officers have can make a huge impact on the community perception and involvement. This type of bottom level supervision stems from a participative management style standpoint or shared leadership. This type of management has been adopted as a strategy to increase employee commitment and to enhance performance. It is basically a power sharing agreement between individuals who are not equal in the hierarchy. This can mean officers on the street are able to give input to supervisors about certain topics that may become beneficial. Often times the officers felt that they had more opportunity to participate in agency decisions and that their input and opinions were seriously being considered. When individuals can put their minds together to work out a problem, the solution is often much more sufficient. Workforce strategies in departments can improve employee attitudes about working conditions and can generate an overall better service to the public by empowering the officers with leadership from the lower levels.