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Over the past few years, several controversial incidents around the country have sparked discussions about the excessive use of force by law enforcement. What is use of force, and what constitutes excessive use of force or police brutality?

No Clear Definitions

According to the National Institute of Justice, “there is no single, universally agreed-upon definition of use of force.” Each agency creates its own rules regarding the topic, which means definitions can vary wildly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In general, officers are asked to use only the amount of force necessary to make an arrest, handle a situation or protect themselves from harm.

The terms “police brutality” and “excessive use of force” are often used interchangeably, but police brutality can also refer to intentional harmful or intimidating tactics used by law enforcement. These may include using nerve gas or guns, making false arrests or verbally and physically abusing civilians.

Numbers Hard to Find

Accurate statistics regarding excessive use of force can be difficult to come by since there is no national database and the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program relies on voluntary reporting from police departments. However, several private organizations attempt to track these incidents, and the Department of Justice (DOJ) reportedly began collecting data on police shootings in early 2017.

Supreme Court Rulings

Several cases have made their way to the nation’s Supreme Court, including a rejected appeal in April 2017 by a Texas man who was paralyzed in a police shooting. Some critics contend that the court has too often sided with law enforcement in these cases.

Legal and Civil Rights

If you think you’ve been a victim of police brutality or excessive use of force, legal experts recommend first filing a complaint with the police department. Next, you can report the incident to the FBI and the DOJ. Seek legal counsel if you feel your case warrants filing a civil lawsuit.

What does “use of force” really mean?

If you have questions about your case, please contact us at or (253) 236-4079.

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