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It's a common misassumption that the terms "police misconduct" and "police brutality" are interchangeable. Under the law, though, police misconduct is a much broader term that includes police brutality. Police brutality necessarily involves the use of force, whether with weapons, batons, feet or fists. Police misconduct can involve any act of a law enforcement officer that is illegal, unethical, unconstitutional or against established employment guidelines.

Clearly, some forms of police misconduct don't have an immediate harmful impact on others. For example, a police officer who fails to show up for work, or who "goldbricks," finding ways to complete shifts without doing work, is engaging in misconduct, and may be subject to discipline. Citizens may suffer indirectly if a police officer is unavailable to answer a call, but it's not the same as an act with direct consequences.

As a general rule, police misconduct falls into one of three categories:

  • Civil misconduct, giving rise to a lawsuit for damages-these are typically constitutional violations
  • Criminal misconduct, for which a police officer may be prosecuted-violations of the law
  • Procedural misconduct, for which an officer may face internal discipline-violations of department policies

The use of unnecessary force by a police officer may constitute a violation of a suspect's constitutional rights, may constitute a crime, or may be both. Matters are complicated because police departments don't all follow the same rules regarding the use of force. Instead, there tends to be a "use of force continuum," with different departments instructing officers to use force in different situations. Some may recommend the use of force at the first indication of resistance while others may prohibit the use of force in response to passive resistance. It's important to understand, though, that simply because a police department has a policy allowing the use of force in response to passive resistance does not mean that use of force will not constitute a violation of constitutional protections, or of the law.


We offer a free initial consultation to anyone who has any questions about filing a police brutality lawsuit. To set up a meeting, contact us online or call us at 732-702-0333 for an appointment. We have offices in Freehold, Toms River and Point Pleasant.

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