Police Use of Force

An Analysis of Organizational Characteristics

Published in: Justice Quarterly, v. 18, no. 2, June 2001, p. 393-409

Posted on RAND.org on December 31, 2000

by Geoffrey P. Alpert, John MacDonald

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Police use of force has become an important public policy concern and topic of research during the past few years. A number of researchers have hypothesized that the structural context of police departments may influence officers' use of force. Despite these claims, little is known on a national level about how law enforcement agencies manage and influence their officers' use of force. The authors analyzed data from a national probability sample of 265 agencies to examine the impact of agency-related characteristics on aggregate rates of reported police use of force. The authors found that agencies which require supervisors and other personnel to fill out use-of-force forms report significantly lower rates of force than agencies that allow officers to fill out their own forms. In contrast, agencies that collect use-of-force data for a specific purpose report significantly higher rates of force. The rate of violent crime in the reporting jurisdiction has the strongest association with reported use-of-force rates. Implications of this research for theory and policy are discussed.

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