Jacksonville Police Department in the News. A recent lawsuit was filed in Florida by a woman who was beaten by two police officers while other law enforcement professionals turned a blind eye as the excessive physical force to her small frame continued. She was intoxicated at the time of the incident, and if police had followed de-escalation training techniques and proper use of force based on their body size in comparison to hers alone, this encounter could have been resolved in a professional humane manner. Jacksonville Police Department’s past claims of brutality have cost lives, broken families and damaged communities of both police officers and citizens that were brutalized, leading to new policies designed to measure use of force incidents and de-escalate police encounters. These policies have been retooled with the hopes of rebuilding trust between communities and law enforcement agencies in Clay County, Florida.
Use of Force. Police officers allowed use of force “under color of law” includes hands, batons, tasers, or other weapons when necessary, and in accordance with officer training and department policy, is among the many misinterpreted powers placed upon government employees, and a topic prevalent in our daily news. The broad-based authority given to police to use force while apprehending criminals, utilizing both physical and psychological methods, to deter and reduce crime is based on policy that dictates what is considered “reasonable” force in any given encounter and is often difficult to clarify and measure because it is unique to that moment in time. Federal laws addressing police misconduct include criminal and civil statutes to cover officers’ action in state, county and local jurisdictions including prisons and jails, addressing illegal willful actions undertaken while using the power vested in them by a governmental agency. The phrase that defines this power is “under color of law.” It is a crime to deprive another person of their protected rights under United States Constitution (18 U.S.C. §§ 241, 242), and criminal and civil legal action can be initiated to remedy the injustice with the possibility of fines and/or prison time. The laws are to protect all people in the United States whether they are citizens or not. In the Florida Statutes, Chapter 776.05 outlines when an officer is justified in the use of any force.
Police brutality is an illegal and actionable offense to be remedied in the interests of victims, when misguided law officers overstep the boundaries of their “allowed use of force” in their roles as public servants who take an oath to protect and serve the communities where they work. Excessive force is the most common type of police brutality that we see in news headlines every day, and sexual misconduct is second in line. Common complaints of police brutality include:
- Excessive Force – utilizing more physical force than necessary to subdue a criminal causing bodily harm or death.
- False Arrest and Wrongful Imprisonment – unlawful restraint of a person’s freedom of movement by another acting in perceived accordance with the law.
- Wrongful Search and Seizure Activity – protection from “unreasonable searches and seizures” notwithstanding probable cause enabling a search warrant. This is a violation of Fourth Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution which guarantees the right against unreasonable searches or seizures. A law enforcement official using authority provided under the color of law is allowed to stop individuals and, with reasonable supported suspicion, search them and retain their property. Violation of a person’s rights may occur when officers abuse their discretionary power, and unlawfully detain or confiscate property.
- Racial and Gender Discrimination – bias-based policing is the intentional practice by an individual law enforcement officer who incorporates prejudicial judgments based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, economic status, religious beliefs, or age that are inappropriately applied in the performance of his/her duties.
- Sexual Harassment/Misconduct – unwelcome sexual advances, requests or demands for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature by law enforcement in the course of their job.
Officers Must Make Professional Judgment Calls Regarding the Application of Force and Address:
1.The type and severity of the incident or crime at issue,
2. The person posing an immediate threat to the officer or others,
3. The person’s physical resistance to an arrest or other lawful detention,
4. The person fleeing from an arrest or other lawful detention,
5. The size, age, relative strength, skill-level, and physical condition (including injury or exhaustion) of the person and the officer,
6. The officer’s level of training and experience,
7. The number of persons and/or number of officers on the scene,
8. The duration of the incident, specifically in relation to the physical resistance offered by the person,
9. The time available to an officer to decide to use response to resistance levels of control/force,
10. The person’s proximity or access to weapons,
11. Environmental factors and other exigent circumstances, and
12. The officer’s perceptions at the time the decision to use force was made.
Fair Law Enforcement Policy. Change is needed to create fair and effective policing that supports equal justice while maintaining trust and safety in the communities. The policies should include measures in all law enforcement departments to include:
- National standards of “use of force” update guidelines;
- Liability to police departments regarding negligence;
- Officers and law enforcement personnel should be screened for implicit bias and aggression, including psychological testing;
- Development of collaborative approaches to respect dignity in the community, with a problem-solving focus based on unique demographics of police department;
- Monitoring of complaints should be effectively followed and addressed with action when necessary;
- Video recording use is effective for accountability standards;
- State legislation should add language and be written to uphold federal laws amending the state of mind required to hold a police officer under 18 U.S.C. 242 from “willful” to “reckless.”
- Separate policing practices and immigration matters to protect human rights;
- Monitor use of military equipment in law enforcement;
- The Department of Justice should require all law enforcement agencies to provide separated demographic community encounter data by service.
If you or someone you love has been a victim of police brutality through excessive force, you should seek legal counsel as soon as possible to review the incident and begin the process of a formal complaint and/or legal action with the courts. A Civil Rights Attorney will be able to measure your damages, including hospital/medical expenses; emotional distress including depression and anxiety; loss of enjoyment of life; and physical pain and suffering if you were injured during the unlawful arrest.