While the term police brutality is most commonly associated with unnecessary violence used against an innocent person or a suspect in a criminal investigation, there are other broader uses for the term. A general definition for police brutality includes any kind of violence, misconduct, intimidation, or false detentions that are meant to harm a person without any legitimate law enforcement purpose.
Members of the American public should be aware that police officers are not above the law. There are codes of conduct for all professional law enforcement agencies around the country, and police officers are government employees who are subject to public oversight. Remedies for people affected by police brutality can include discipline against the officer by their employing department, and civil lawsuits that provide compensation to pay for injuries and missed time from work.
Violence that exceeds approved uses of force
A classic police brutality case is when an officer inflicts a violent punishment on someone. This can be with a weapon such as a gun, taser, or pepper spray, as well as with their hands and feet through punches, kicks, and chokeholds. Police brutality started to gain national attention in the early 1990s when a video recording showed how Rodney King was beaten by multiple police officers in California while he was handcuffed and face down on the ground. Such examples are considered unnecessary violence because officers are only allowed to use force to protect their own lives and maintain the safety of other people in the area.
Victims of this kind of treatment often sustain serious injuries or even die, which then becomes the basis for an investigation into the behavior and a related lawsuit.
Police misconduct generally
Any kind of police misconduct that harms a person can be considered police brutality from a legal standpoint. Aside from violence, this can include actions like planted evidence or a false arrest. These are actions that are meant to punish a person due to the officer’s personal grudge against the individual, rather than to deter crime. All forms of misconduct are serious because they waste taxpayer money, distract police officers from their legitimate job duties, and cause long lasting problems for individuals who are innocent in most cases.
How are citizens able to respond to police misconduct?
Police departments do have a special division called internal affairs that investigates all allegations of police misconduct. Victims can file a formal complaint with the department, although this is problematic in many situations because the investigations are usually kept confidential and the officer will rarely face serious forms of discipline such as termination or criminal charges. Many officers only receive brief administrative suspensions while they are investigated.
There are civil rights laws which protect all citizens from abuses by government employees and officials. Because police officers are employed by governments, these laws have become the basis for most civil lawsuits that are related to police brutality and other forms of misbehavior.
Learn how you can get help after becoming a victim
For more information about police brutality, it is possible to speak with a lawyer who practices locally in your city. You can use the listings on USAttorneys.com to find an attorney who focuses on helping people after an incident of police violence.