Police officers serve and protect the general population. Most of the time, people expect officers to take care of the people whom they serve. Unfortunately, in some cases, police officers abuse the power given to them. Police misconduct occurs when police officers abuse the privileges given to them as officers of the law, including both illegal and unethical actions while they pursue their duties that violate individuals’ rights—something a police brutality lawyer can help you address.
Police brutality has gained increasing media attention over the past several years, perhaps because of the prevalence of recording devices that make it possible to record police officers in the act. Police brutality occurs when, in the course of normal job duties, a police officer causes harm or death to another individual without just cause. A police officer who shoots an armed suspect before he or she can kill hostages, for example, does not qualify as an act of police brutality.
Police brutality, however, can encompass several common examples.
- Inflicting excessive force on a suspect during an arrest. During an arrest, the police may need to place the suspect in handcuffs. If the suspect flees, the police may have to give chase, which can result in injury when the subject gets taken down. If, however, the police engage in rough handling of the suspect, including hitting, kicking, or placing the suspect in holds that can cause joint damage, it may qualify as police brutality. Police also cannot roughly handle a suspect who does not protest and who submits to the officers’ requests.
- Shooting or killing a suspect without just cause. While officers can take down armed suspects who reach for or threaten others with weapons, officers cannot shoot unarmed suspects, nor can they shoot suspects who pose no harm to someone else. Police also should not shoot a suspect attempting to flee unless that suspect poses a clear and immediate danger to those around him, usually in the form of a weapon.
- Continuing to use force after a subject submits or the police have subdued the suspect. Once a suspect submits, the police must cease all forms of violence against him. A suspect on the ground, with his hands behind his back, or a suspect with his hands up in surrender, should not have violence inflicted against him or her unless the police believe that violence is necessary to protect themselves or others.
Often, police corruption involves a group of officers rather than any one single officer. Police corruption occurs when an officer uses his or her power as a legal enforcer to force others to perform a specific act. This might include:
- Solicitation of sexual favors. When police officers demand sexual favors, either because they feel like they have the power to make the claim or in exchange for certain legal favors, like looking the other way while the coerced individual commits a crime, those officers are guilty of corruption. Sexual favors may include explicit sexual acts as well as providing nude photos or recordings.
- Demanding payment or accepting bribes for services performed in the course of job duties. While many police officers choose to work second jobs in security positions when off the clock, they cannot demand payment for services rendered in the course of their normal job duties. For example, corrupt police officers might demand payment to catch criminals in a certain area of town or to protect specific stores and facilities.
- Selective enforcement. When police grow corrupt, they may choose to selectively enforce laws that should, in reality, apply to everyone. Corrupt police officers might, for example, choose not to enforce laws for their own relatives and family members, or such officers might have stricter enforcement principles for individuals who do not belong to a specific group.
- Falsifying evidence. Sometimes, corrupt policemen decide that they want to plant specific evidence that implicates a specific individual, perhaps someone the officer has a grudge against, of a crime. In other cases, officers might falsify evidence to indicate the innocence of an individual whom they do not wish to see convicted. Falsification of evidence can lead to a failure to enact justice in many criminal cases.
In the United States, every citizen has equal freedoms, regardless of the color of his or her skin. Unfortunately, not every officer treats every citizen equally.
Racial profiling occurs when an officer treats a person of a specific race or color differently than the general population, simply because of skin color. Instead of treating all suspects equally, officers who racially profile their suspects may choose to target them based on external factors, rather than on any evidence. Racial profiling may include:
- Illegally stopping someone based on the color of his or her skin. Walking home through the neighborhood after work one night, a black man in a dark sweatsuit gets stopped by the police. A neighbor called in a crime, and the police want to know his business in the neighborhood. Though he displays no reason for which officers might accuse him of the crime, the police detain him, asking unnecessary questions and questioning his right to walk through the neighborhood. During questioning, several white men in similar attire walk by without repercussion.
- Choosing to search someone based on race. While driving down the road, a Hispanic man gets pulled over. The police want to search his vehicle. He has done nothing wrong: he followed the rules of the road, maintained reasonable speed, and has nothing wrong with his vehicle. He updated his registration right on time and even signaled before changing lanes. The stop and search occurred primarily because the officers who pulled him over noted the color of his skin.
Police officers who engage in racial profiling show clear signs of misconduct. Instead, police officers must offer the same fair treatment to every citizen of their jurisdiction, regardless of race or skin color.
When dealing with citizens, judges, and other members of law enforcement, police officers do not stand above the law. In many cases, police officers are held to a higher standard of conduct than regular citizens, including a high level of honesty. Unfortunately, not all police officers hold themselves to those same high standards. For example, they may:
- Pad overtime hours. In some cases, this may include, for example, pulling over or arresting individuals based solely on an officer’s desire to spend time in court, gathering overtime pay.
- Lie about what really happened at a crime scene. Even without falsifying evidence, police officers can engage in a high level of dishonesty. The officer might, for example, refuse to give an accurate account of events or fail to “remember” what happened during an altercation in which police officers were called.
- Ignore witness testimony or choose what to report. In some cases, police officers might choose to listen only to a single side of events, rather than paying attention to what everyone has to say about a crime.
Across the country, hundreds of police officers could remain on the job in spite of evidence that calls their honesty into question. As a result, many victims of that dishonesty may face jail time, substantial fines, probation, and other penalties. The officers who tell these lies, however, may have little care for the consequences that they cause for their victims. Some enjoy the feeling of power that their dishonesty brings them, while others appreciate other benefits, like increased overtime, that come along with it.
When accused of a crime, a suspect has the right not to speak, whether that involves refusing to confess or putting up a defensive argument. Instead, the suspect can choose to wait until he or she has an attorney, who can help ensure that the police do not violate the individual’s rights and that he or she does not mistakenly confess to the alleged crime.
Unfortunately, not all officers have enough patience to wait. Worse, some officers, once they feel like they have caught the perpetrator of a crime, do not want to run the risk that they will have to start looking all over again.
Forced confessions occur when an officer gets a confession from a suspect under pressure. The officer may:
- Threaten or inflict physical harm, including ongoing torture, on the subject. Just as police officers must not perform acts of violence against their suspects once they are under control, officers cannot commit violence against a suspect in for questioning or in custody. Some officers may use outright torture to force a confession from a suspect against his or her will.
- Threaten other people loved by the suspect. “If you confess, I won’t go after your brother.” “It would be a shame if something happened to your friend.” Often, suspects show more willingness to cooperate when they feel that someone they love will face danger or harm if they fail to confess to the crime, including crimes they did not commit.
- Deprive the suspect of food and/or sleep. Sleep deprivation still counts as torture. Officers may, however, use this strategy to coerce a confession out of an unwilling suspect.
- False promises. In some cases, false promises—including the promise of lesser punishment or better conditions upon release—can coerce a confession out of a suspect who committed no crime.
In addition, police may coerce confessions from individuals with mental disabilities that prevent them from effectively defending themselves or engage in conduct that causes fear in the individual, even when the police officers have not actively committed violence or issued threats against them.
False Arrest or Imprisonment
For some people, false arrest or imprisonment causes a minor inconvenience. For others, however, it could mean the loss of their livelihood. Some police officers choose to use false arrest or imprisonment as an act of power against someone who isn’t truly suspected of a crime. They have no evidence that the person committed a crime.
In some cases, they may even have evidence that specifically indicates that the individual did not commit a crime. Unfortunately, police officers can still hold that individual for a period of time—and many of them use this power to their advantage.
In other cases, police officers may threaten false arrest or imprisonment to create fear and coerce a specific response out of a citizen. While imprisoned, an innocent individual may:
- Have no childcare for minor children, potentially resulting in those children ending up in state custody
- Lose current employment
- Lose the opportunity for future employment
- Miss out on activities and opportunities during that false imprisonment
Long-term imprisonment, especially if the citizen is falsely accused of a crime, can leave that individual with a record that follows him or her for the rest of his life. As a result, he or she may struggle to secure future employment and ultimately end up in more trouble.
Every police force has very specific methods for collecting evidence. When a case goes to court, evidence must receive the proper treatment for it to count. Unfortunately, this leaves the door open for police misconduct: by spoiling evidence, police officers can make it impossible for a jury to find the suspect guilty. For example, officers may:
- Track through an area, spoiling the integrity of the scene. This simple move can destroy many types of evidence, making it impossible for the state to secure a conviction against a suspect on the basis of the evidence.
- Store evidence improperly. If no record exists of the evidence, the police cannot present the evidence in court.
- Destroy evidence. Simple destruction of evidence or failure to enter it into record can leave the system without the evidence needed to gain a conviction, which can, in turn, leave a criminal walking free.
Police officers often spoil or destroy evidence to prevent an investigation from going against family members or friends. Officers may also accept bribes to spoil evidence.
If you suffered injuries, whether physical or emotional, due to police misconduct, you may need an attorney to help you seek compensation or hold those officers accountable. Contacting a police brutality attorney as soon as possible can increase your ability to collect evidence and your chances of securing compensation.