What Qualifies as Excessive Force?
There have been many high-profile cases of police brutality making the national news lately, with allegations of excessive force being a common factor. But what exactly qualifies as excessive force?
It is understood that police officers often have to use some level of force to subdue their suspects. Many people being arrested under suspicion of committing a crime are not particularly eager to be handcuffed and will do everything they can to get away from officers. It is up to those officers to determine quickly the reasonable level of force in any given situation. This makes excessive force a rather gray area. Where do law enforcement agencies draw the line?
Some uses of force are banned completely in certain jurisdictions. For example, the 2014 death of Eric Garner in New York involved a police officer using an illegal chokehold, which has been proven to be extremely dangerous for subdued suspects.
Excessive force is tough to define
Other recent cases involving officers discharging their weapons have also raised the question of what constitutes excessive force. Any time a police officer uses a firearm, the incident is subject to review and the officer is placed on administrative duty pending the completion of the investigation. Again, it is generally understood that officers will have no choice but to use their weapons in some cases, especially if they face immediate danger or the suspect is a legitimate threat to cause harm to other people. But in some cases, such as the recent South Carolina case of a police officer shooting an unarmed suspect in the back as he ran away, use of the firearm may be considered excessive.
Ultimately, there is no single definition of excessive force. Each incident of force has to be analyzed individually. But usually, the basic guideline is any level of force greater than the force being used (or threatened to be used) by suspects against officers is considered excessive.