What causes police brutality

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Police brutality is a significant problem in the US, and in recent years the nation has witnessed how dangerous the problem can be. The recent deaths of Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, and George Floyd that led to widespread protests are an excellent example of police brutality (Brooks, 2020). The local and federal law enforcement responses to protests and the cases of excessive use of force by the police have been heavily criticized. Still, such responses are part of bigger policy-related and institutional problems. The causes are numerous and complex and may not be completely understood. Therefore, discussing some of the main causes of police brutality is crucial. Indeed, many factors lead to such brutality, and most officers are not held accountable for their actions, which means the causes are not adequately addressed, leading to a culture of misconduct and a lack of accountability.

Primary Causes of Police Brutality

Racial profiling is considered a major cause of police brutality in the U.S. It plays a significant role in that officers disproportionately target people of color even when they are innocent. Most abuse of power by law enforcement officers is often directed at minority groups, primarily African Americans and Hispanics (Edwards, Lee, & Esposito, 2019). According to research, black people are more likely to be killed by the police by up to 3.5 times when they are not resisting or are unarmed (Ray, 2020). Statistics show that black teenagers are 21 times likelier to be murdered by the police than their white counterparts (Ray, 2020). Usually, such racially biased street encounters take place with greater frequency in black neighborhoods. These minority groups are often subjected to more searches, frisks, and interrogation, which can escalate to brutality.

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Another major cause of police brutality is psychopathy which makes it more likely for officers to use excessive force than their colleagues. In a recent study on officers that had used excessive force, researchers found a trend of psychopathic behavior, and they were able to group the officers based on their causes. The causes included previous traumatic job-related experience, inexperience, inappropriate patrol styles, and authoritarian officers. Other causes of police brutality were also discussed in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police report, showing system and institutional factors to be the primary cause of police brutality. Some of the main findings listed in the report on the factors include pressures on the officers to conform to certain aspects of police culture (Brooks, 2020). Officers are often arm-twisted into a code of silence, leading to an opposition criminal subculture where officers’ interests are protected while they violate the law. It often leads to ”we and they’ perspectives leading to further split and distrust with the public. Also, the institutional culture of command and control punctuated by a rigid hierarchical system can lead to an authoritarian sub-culture (Brooks, 2020). Moreover, there are deficiencies in the system regarding police accountability. Often many officers go unpunished and may be protected by their fellow officers leading to a negative culture of lack of accountability.

Prevention

Officer misconduct can be prevented by encouraging more accountability and altering the system to allow for more institutional changes for a widespread impact. There have been proposals for civilian restructuring payouts for police misconduct. In the proposal, which is already under trial in some states, the civilian payouts following misconduct by police and the police department insurance policies will cover the costs. That way, the police department, and the police feel the impact of their action or inaction. In New York State, there have been proposals that individual officers have their liability insurance. Also, officers need proper training on various aspects of police-public interaction and how to prevent specific interactions from escalating to altercations and confrontations. More training must be done on anger management and best practices in police-public interactions. Some of the deep-seated racial issues require the introduction of institutional changes to police work.

Conclusion

Police brutality is a significant problem in the country and across the globe. Often it takes a racial angle, and people of color experience a disproportionate impact. In most instances, cases of police brutality go unpunished, which often leads to a culture of lack of accountability. More needs to be done to make officers more accountable for their actions. However, dealing with the problem more sustainably requires that the root causes be dealt with. As demonstrated above, this calls for institutional and widespread changes in law enforcement. Any changes being made must originate from the very foundation of the principles of policing, which are grounded on the premise that the police ought to protect the public; they are the agents of protection and not the source of fear, brutality, and killings.

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  1. Edwards, F., Lee, H., & Esposito, M. (2019). Risk of being killed by police use of force in the United States by age, race-ethnicity, and sex. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America116(34), 16793–16798. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1821204116
  2. Brooks O. (2020). Police Brutality and Blacks: An American Immune System Disorder. Journal of the National Medical Association112(3), 239–241. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jnma.2020.06.003
  3. Ray, R. (2020). How can we enhance police accountability in the United States? Brookings. https://www.brookings.edu/policy2020/votervital/how-can-we-enhance-police-accountability-in-the-united-states/
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