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File:Ian Tomlinson remonstrates with police.jpg

Ian Tomlinson, victim of an unprovoked attack by police in London (2009) while trying to get home from work, collapsed and died soon after.

Police brutality is the intentional use of excessive force, usually physical, but potentially also in the form of verbal attacks and psychological intimidation, by a police officer. Hubert Locke writes, "When used in print or as the battle cry in a black power rally, police brutality can by implication cover a number of practices, from calling a citizen by his or her first name to a death by a policeman's bullet. What the average citizen thinks of when he hears the term, however, is something midway between these two occurrences, something more akin to what the police profession knows as 'alley court' — the wanton vicious beating of a person in custody, usually while handcuffed, and usually taking place somewhere between the scene of the arrest and the station house."[1]

Widespread police brutality exists in many countries, even those that prosecute it.[2] Police brutality is one of several forms of police misconduct, which include false arrest, intimidation, racial profiling, political repression, surveillance abuse, sexual abuse, and police corruption.



April 21, 2001: Police fire CS gas at protesters during the Quebec City Summit of the Americas. The Commission for Public Complaints against the RCMP later concluded the use of tear gas against demonstrators at the summit constituted "excessive and unjustified force."

The word "brutality" has several meanings; the sense used here (savage cruelty) was first used in 1633.[3] The first known use of the term "police brutality" was in the New York Times in 1893,[4] describing a police officer's beating of a civilian.

Throughout history, efforts to police societies have been marred by brutality to some degree. In the ancient world, policing entities actively cultivated an atmosphere of terror, and abusive treatment was used to achieve more efficient control of the population.[citation needed] In western civilization,as the Power of Royal authority grew in the later European kingdoms these faced a problem that formerly was mostly the charge duty of the local aristocrats and reeves of the Feudal system, which usually were better prepared for military and major brigandage. The House of Burgundy in Castile created and gave license in the Lower Middle Ages to an Institution, The Santa Hermandad that would leave the Military Forces free of this Service, and the local or regional Officers in charge of it independent from Aristocratic or Church interference, though it would not be always so. Other countries will follow issue, and the Royal Sergeants of France to keep order among the military, would take more civilian duties and give in time place to the development of the French national Gendarmes. But all these Forces of Peace and Order would be used and abused by some or another political factions of society at large, if not from their own volition.

The origin of modern policing based on the authority of the nation state is commonly traced back to developments in seventeenth and eighteenth century France, with modern police departments being established in most nations by the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (see Police - History section). Cases of police brutality appear to have been frequent then, with "the routine bludgeoning of citizens by patrolmen armed with nightsticks or blackjacks."[5] Large-scale incidents of brutality were associated with labor strikes, such as the Great Railroad Strike of 1877, the Pullman Strike of 1894, the Lawrence textile strike of 1912, the Ludlow massacre of 1914, the Steel strike of 1919, and the Hanapepe massacre of 1924.

Police brutality can be associated with racial profiling. Portions of the population may perceive the police to be oppressors. In addition, there is a perception that victims of police brutality often belong to relatively powerless groups, such as minorities, the young, and the poor.[6]


Police officers are legally permitted to use force, and their superiors—and the public—expect them to do so when appropriate (see Use of force). According to Jerome Herbert Skolnick, in dealing largely with disorderly elements of the society, some people working in law enforcement may gradually develop an attitude or sense of authority over society, particularly under traditional reaction-based policing models; in some cases the police believe that they are above the law.[7]

However, this "bad apple paradigm" is considered by some to be an "easy way out". A broad report commissioned by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police on the causes of misconduct in policing calls it "a simplistic explanation that permits the organization and senior management to blame corruption on individuals and individual faults – behavioural, psychological, background factors, and so on, rather than addressing systemic factors."[8] The report goes on to discuss the systemic factors, which include

  • Pressures to conform to certain aspects of "police culture", such as the Blue Code of Silence, which can "sustain an oppositional criminal subculture protecting the interests of police who violate the law"[9] and a "'we-they' perspective in which outsiders are viewed with suspicion or distrust"[8]
  • command and control structures with a rigid hierarchical foundation ("results indicate that the more rigid the hierarchy, the lower the scores on a measure of ethical decision-making" concludes one study reviewed in the report);[10] and
  • deficiencies in internal accountability mechanisms (including internal investigation processes).[8]

Police use of force is kept in check in many jurisdictions by the issuance of a use of force continuum.[11] A use of force continuum sets levels of force considered appropriate in direct response to a subject's behavior. This power is granted by the civil government, with limits set out in statutory law as well as common law.

Some members of the public may in fact perceive the use of force by police as excessive even when the force used is lawful.

Global prevalence

  • In the Philippines, the Philippine National Police has many incidents of Police brutality against the people whom they arrest or investigate. In some cases, instead of inviting a person for questioning and that particular person refuses, they arrest them without a warrant for the reason of obstruction of justice. This is a violation of the right of a person for dignity, silent, and equality before the law. Especially, there is no warrant of arrest, meaning a false arrest. Also in some cases, the officials of the Philippine National Police abuse their privilege to use force to induce psychological intimidation against a group or an individual as revenge due to a previous incident of the latter. The common victims are journalist who made a report of an incident that is done wrongly by the police. Due to these incidents, the public has low approval for the credibility of the Philippine National Police. The most famous incident involving the Philippine National Police was the Manila hostage crisis on August 2010.
  • In Mexico there are several recent incidents involving Police brutality, all this in the context of war against drugs carried by Felipe Calderon.
  • In the UK the reports into the death of New Zealand teacher and anti-racism campaigner Blair Peach in 1979 was published on the Metropolitan Police website on 27 April 2010. The conclusion was that Blair Peach was killed by a police officer, but that the other police officers in the same unit had refused to cooperate with the inquiry by lying to investigators, making it impossible to identify the actual killer.
  • In the UK, Ian Tomlinson was filmed by an American tourist apparently being hit with an baton and then pushed to the floor, as he walked home from work during the 2009 G-20 London summit protests. Ian then collapsed and died. Although he was arrested on suspicion of manslaughter, the officer who allegedly assaulted Tomlinson was released without charge.
  • In Serbia, police brutality occurred in numerous cases during protests against Slobodan Milošević, and has also been recorded during protests against governments since Milošević lost power. The most recent case was recorded in July 2010, when five people, including two girls, were arrested, handcuffed and then beaten with clubs and otherwise mistreated for one hour. Security camera recordings of the beating were obtained by the media, causing public outrage.[12][13] The police officials, including Ivica Dačić, the Serbian minister of internal affairs, denied this sequence of events and accused the victims "to have attacked the police officers first". He also publicly stated that "police isn't here to beat up citizens", but that it is known "what one is going to get when attacking the police".[14]


In the United Kingdom, an independent organization known as the Independent Police Complaints Commission investigates reports of police misconduct. They automatically investigate any deaths caused by, or thought to be caused by, police action.

Independent oversight

Various community groups have criticized police brutality. These groups often stress the need for oversight by independent citizen review boards and other methods of ensuring accountability for police action.

Umbrella organizations and justice committees (often named after a deceased individual or those victimized by police violence) usually engage in a solidarity of those affected. Amnesty International is another organization active in the issue of police brutality.

Tools used by these groups include video recordings, which are sometimes broadcast using websites such as YouTube.[15]



See also


  1. Locke, Hubert G. (1966-1967). Police Brutality and Civilian Review Boards: A Second Look. 44. J. Urb. L.. pp. 625.
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Amnesty International Report 2007". Amnesty International. 2007. Archived from the original on 2007-08-07. Retrieved 2007-08-08.
  3. Oxford English Dictionary
  4. "Police officers in trouble: Charges against policeman McManus by his sergeant". New York Times. June 23, 1893.
  5. Johnson, Marilynn S. (2004). Johnson. ed. Street Justice: A History of Police Violence in New York City. Beacon Press. pp. 365. ISBN 0807050237.
  6. Powers, Mary D. (1995). "Civilian Oversight Is Necessary to Prevent Police Brutality". In Winters, Paul A.. Policing the Police. San Diego: Greenhaven Press. pp. 56–60. ISBN 1-56510-262-2.
  7. Skolnick, Jerome H.; Fyfe, James D. (1995). "Community-Oriented Policing Would Prevent Police Brutality". In Winters, Paul A.. Policing the Police. San Diego: Greenhaven Press. pp. 45–55. ISBN 1-56510-262-2.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Loree, Don (2006). "Corruption in Policing: Causes and Consequences; A Review of the Literature" (PDF). Research and Evaluation Community, Contract and Aboriginal Policing Services Directorate. Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Retrieved 2007-09-01.
  9. Skolnick, Jerome H. (2002). "Corruption and the Blue Code of Silence". Police Practice and Research 3 (1): 7. doi:10.1080/15614260290011309.
  10. Owens, Katherine M. B.; Jeffrey Pfeifer (2002). "Police Leadership and Ethics: Training and Police Recommendations". The Canadian Journal of Police and Security Services 1 (2): 7.
  11. Stetser, Merle (2001). The Use of Force in Police Control of Violence: Incidents Resulting in Assaults on Officers. New York: LFB Scholarly Publishing L.L.C.. ISBN 1-931202-08-7.
  12. B92 (video)
  13. Blic (video)
  14. B92: Dačić: Police isn't here to beat up citizens
  15. Veiga, Alex (November 11, 2006). " prompts police beating probe". Associated Press. Retrieved 2006-11-12.[dead link]

External links

Template:External links

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