What are Facts on the Cause of Police Brutality?

by Dina Gilio-Whitaker
There are several theories about the causes for police brutality.

There are several theories about the causes for police brutality.

Cases in which police, prison guards and other law enforcement authorities used excessive force or other tactics to violate victims' civil rights increased from 224 to 281 from fiscal years 2001 to 2007, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Between April 2009 and June 2010 in the U.S. there were 5,986 recorded reports of police misconduct and 382 fatalities linked to misconduct, according to the National Police Misconduct Statistics and Reporting Project. Although the occurrence of police brutality is acknowledged by authorities as persistent problem, reasons for its are best qualified as theories.

Psychological Factors

Some theories argue there are psychological factors inherent in the causes of police brutality. The stereotype of the bad apple or rogue cop has largely been disavowed but studies suggest some personality traits can lead to the use of excessive force. Personality disorders, personal problems, past job related trauma, and young inexperienced macho officers who learn inappropriate patrol styles all fit into this category, but they fail to completely explain police brutality.

Organizational Factors

The policies and environment of a police organization are highly significant contributors to police brutality. For example, in the Rodney King beating incident the Los Angeles Police Department used force within the acceptable parameters established by the organization. The LAPD policy left it up to the discretion of the individual officers leaving an open window for potential abuse. The organization plays a key role in whether at-risk officers will respond abusively or not.

Racial Profiling

Racial profiling continues to be widely practiced in the U.S. despite its illegality and is connected to police brutality. Racial profiling assumes guilt for a crime based on the presumed criminality of people of certain racial characteristics, with African-Americans, Latinos, Asians, and Native Americans disproportionately affected. This raises the question of racism and to what extent it's responsible for police brutality.

Criminality

The use of excess force on civilians is a criminal offense because it violates state laws, federal laws, constitutional rights, and police laws as well. Brutality is a form of white collar, occupational crime because the offending officer is operating in the function of his legitimate occupation. Police departments seldom punish officers severely for excessive use of force, contributing to the perpetuation of this form of criminal behavior, critics say.

About the Author

Dina Gilio-Whitaker began writing professionally as a freelance journalist in 2001 when she focused on community activism. She has a bachelor's degree in Native American studies with a political science minor and is currently a graduate student in American studies at the University of New Mexico. Gilio-Whitaker has won numerous awards for her academic writing and is an accomplished Native American artist, crafter and dancer.

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