How consistent are use-of-force policies across police agencies? The U.S. Supreme Court case Graham v. Connor (1989) requires that police officers use only the amount of force necessary to subdue a resistant suspect; force exceeding that minimum is considered excessive. The Court left it up to police agencies to establish force policies to guide officers’ use of physical coercion. Terrill and Paoline (2013) sought to determine what these policies look like and how consistent they are across agencies. The researchers mailed surveys to a sample of 1,083 municipal police departments and county sheriff offices nationwide, making the agency the unit of analysis. Results showed that 80% of agencies used a force continuum as part of their written use-of-force policies, suggesting some predictability in the way in which agencies organize their policies. However, there was substantial variation in policy restrictiveness and the placement of different techniques and weapons. Most agencies placed officer presence and verbal commands at the lowest end, and deadly force at the highest, but between those extremes there was variability in the placement of soft and hard hand tactics, chemical sprays, impact weapons, CEDs, and other methods commonly used to subdue noncompliant suspects. These findings show how localized force policies are, and how inconsistent they are across agencies.
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Use-of-Force Policies across Police Agencies
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