Following tragic and high-profile police-related deaths in the past several years, allegations of police misconduct and brutality having increasingly become a matter of public interest. These issues are not, or should not, be an accusation towards the entire profession; there are, of course, many police officers who uphold their duty and are dedicated to serving the public. Still, with the current issues at hand, it may be worthwhile to discuss a general overview of police misconduct and brutality lawsuits.
There are many actions that may be considered acts of police misconduct. One of the most frequent examples that comes to mind is the use of excessive force. In order to control a situation and protect civilians or themselves, police officers are allowed to use an amount of force proportional to the threat. Exceeding the amount of necessary force violates an individual’s rights. What counts as “excessive” is dependent on the situation.
Police misconduct lawsuits may also allege actions such as illegal search and seizure, sexual assault, coercion or blackmail and racial profiling.
Fatal police shootings have made headlines the most. Laws dictating when a police officer can open fire are determined by each state, but policies generally say that guns should only be used when the police officer or another person is in imminent danger, or if a suspect who committed a dangerous crime is fleeing and poses an imminent danger to others following their escape. Cases filed over fatal shootings often allege that a police officer used their firearm in a situation that did not warrant it.
A report by Amnesty International for the 2015/2016 year in the United States called state statutes on the use of lethal force “far too permissive”, nothing that “none limit the use of firearms to a last resort only after non-violent and less harmful means are exhausted, and where the officer or others are faced with an imminent threat of death or serious injury.” The report also found that authorities do a poor job of accurately tracking the number of people killed by law enforcement each year, noting that estimates range anywhere from 458 to more than 1,000 people.
Lethal force is not always a result of a gun; it has also occurred via Tasing. The Amnesty Internal Report cited at least 670 Taser-related deaths that have occurred since 2001; 43 Taser-related deaths occurred across 25 states.