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When is a police officer using excessive force?

Have you been in a situation where you believed an officer may have used excessive force? Do you understand what levels of force are considered acceptable?

Excessive police force is presumed when an officer applies physical force greater than what needs to be used against a person who is not resisting arrest. If an officer is accused of using excessive force while handling their law enforcement duties, they can be subject to criminal charges, such as assault or homicide.

How much force can a police officer use?

When arresting a suspect, police officers can use enough physical force to complete the arrest or prevent an escape. A police officer can also use force to defend themselves or another police officer if they feel threatened or that they are in imminent danger.

An officer can justifiably use deadly force when they believe it is necessary to protect their own life. Officers are trained and can use a choke hold on a suspect if they reasonably believe that a felony has been committed with the use of a deadly weapon.

How do the police determine how and when to use force?

The Supreme Court has determined that police officers have the authority to use a certain degree of physical force when making an arrest or an investigatory stop. But the amount of force must match the threat that officer experiences and can only be escalated in response to a higher threat from the suspect. An optimum result for an officer would be to diffuse a situation using the following methods as a situation escalates:

  • Physical presence - Arriving at the scene can show that they are trying to take control of a situation.
  • Verbalization - Issuing commands and statements to diffuse a situation without using physical force.
  • Empty-hand control - Using physical force such as holds, grabbing, punches or kicks.
  • Less lethal method - Incorporating the use of weapons that may include a baton, taser, chemical spray or a police dog.
  • Lethal force - Using a weapon such as a firearm to stop an action.

Victims of police brutality or excessive force are often scared or in shock. If you feel that an officer has acted improperly with you, the court can determine if the actions of the officer went too far.

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