Police officers in New Jersey have dangerous jobs, and they use force during about 1 in 30 arrests to either overcome a resisting suspect; prevent him or her from fleeing; or protect themselves, their colleagues, or members of the public from harm. State guidelines allow the use of force providing it is both reasonable and proportionate to the threat being faced, but separating what is an acceptable use of force from police brutality is often perplexing for law enforcement officials and civil rights advocates. This is especially true when the facts suggest that police officers did not exhaust all other avenues before resorting to force.
Use of force study
When a team of journalists scrutinized more than 72,000 police use of force reports filed in New Jersey between 2012 and 2016, they discovered that about 10% of the state’s law enforcement officers accounted for more than a third of the violent incidents, and 252 officers used force on five or more occasions. The journalists also found that tracking these incidents is challenging because there is no statewide reporting system in place.
African American communities most affected
The figures also reveal that Black suspects in New Jersey are three times more likely to be subjected to force than white suspects, but that figure is far higher in some parts of the state. In Lakewood, African American suspects are 22 times more likely to be violently restrained or subdued by police officers. When questioned about these figures, some police officials dismissed criticisms of their oversight policies and blamed the high number of violent incidents on aggressive reporting. However, this is not true of all of New Jersey’s 468 police departments. In Maplewood, the chief of police personally reviews every use of force report.
Advocating on behalf of police brutality victims
Victims of police violence often face additional charges for resisting arrest and attempting to flee, and there have even been cases in which police officers falsified reports to explain the injuries their suspects suffered. Attorneys with experience in police brutality cases could be aware of this, and they may gather evidence of police brutality by scrutinizing official reports, obtaining recordings of the incident in question and interviewing eyewitnesses.