Excessive force is any force that a police officer uses that is more than necessary to take a person into custody. Simply put, a police officer cannot do anything and everything to make an arrest or to stop a suspect. The law says that the police must use force that is proportional to the situation they face and the level of the threat present.
Is Excessive Force The Same As Police Brutality?
Excessive force and police brutality mean the same thing. Excessive force is the legal term for police brutality. The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution governs how courts and civil rights attorneys are to assess whether an officer has used excessive force on a citizen. This amendment protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures. In the context of police brutality cases, anytime an officer uses force on a citizen, they have seized that citizen. Meaning they have used some level of force to seize/detain a person and take them into custody. All seizures must be reasonable. This also means that the level of force used to seize a person during an arrest must also be reasonable. An officer cannot shoot a suspect simply because he refused to get out of a vehicle during a traffic stop. That level of force would be unreasonable because the level of resistance the officer was met with by the person refusing to exit his vehicle did not match the level of force the officer used to get the person to exit.
Now let’s use that same scenario and this time the driver refuses to exit the car and when the officer goes to physically pull the person from the car that driver grabs a gun from his glove box and the officer fires his weapon at the driver. In this scenario, a reasonable person could argue that it was not unreasonable for the officer to shoot the driver. The officer was faced with a deadly threat from the driver and he used deadly force by firing his weapon to protect himself and to bring this encounter to an end.
As you can see, excessive force cases come down to an analysis of the threat faced by an officer versus the level of force used by the officer. As a Chicago police brutality lawyer, I’ve seen excessive force come in many forms. I’ve handled cases where unarmed Black citizens have been shot and killed by the police. I’ve also had cases where citizens have been seriously injured by the police because an officer decided to use force as a first option instead of the last. However, no matter the type of case, what has remained the same is that excessive force is overwhelmingly used against Black and Hispanic citizens.
Take a look at this list for some of the most common forms of excessive force.
- Injured during arrest with bruises and broken bones.
- Tight handcuffing that can lead to distressed blood circulation and possible amputation.
- Being choked by an officer.
- Being hit by a police car.
- Being shot by the police.
- Beat by the police during a protest.
However, you should also know that you don’t have to suffer serious injury or death by the police in order for there to be a case of excessive force. It is often the case that police officers use excessive force on citizens during an arrest and no one is seriously injured or taken to the hospital for treatment. For example, if during an arrest an officer throws a compliant citizen to the ground for handcuffing, despite the fact that the citizen displayed no signs of resisting or violence, that could be considered excessive force. In this scenario, while the citizen might not have been injured, the force used by the officer was still excessive. This kind of police interaction occurs often during police encounters that involve citizens of color. As a Chicago police brutality lawyer, I frequently get calls from people who were the victims of excessive force at the hands of the Chicago police even though they were compliant.
If you were injured during an encounter with the police or believe that the police used excessive force on you, it’s important that you speak to an experienced police brutality and misconduct attorney right away. An attorney that handles police brutality cases will be able to properly advise you of your rights and help you to decide whether you want to pursue a federal civil rights lawsuit against the officers that injured you. Also, there are certain steps you should take after being injured by the police. We’ve written an article that details these steps.
Download the below infographic that explains excessive force and what to do.