Overview of the Issue Brief Assignment

Select an issue of interest that is relevant to criminal justice. This assignment requires that you summarize the current research on that topic for the general public. In many sections of the brief, you will summarize the existing literature. In other sections, you should provide the reader with your own analysis of the issues. Selecting a topic you have worked on before is helpful.

 Your topic selection will guide the length of your paper. If you select a very broad topic, usually more is involved in summarizing the current work on that topic. If you select a specific topic, often the body of research that you must cover is more limited. Topic selection and refinement will be your greatest challenge!


Paper Title: Police Brutality in USA


In the US, police brutality has a widespread and controversial history. Poor labor workers were the primary victims of police brutality during the early days of patrolling. Police brutality widely focused around the beating of laborers carrying out a strike. The very first event of police brutality in history of US was witnessed during the Great Railroad strike of 1877. The other events of police brutality that followed include: The Pullman Strike in 1894, the Lawrence Strike in 1912, the Ludlow genocide of 1914, the Steel strike of 1919 and the Hanapepe massacre of 1942. From the 20th century, the Civil Rights Movement, The War of Vietnam and the Nixon administration all demonstrated a huge scale of police brutality. (Law Enforcement: Police Misconduct in the United States)

In 1919, the approval of the National Prohibition Act created a long lasting negative impact on the practice of policing.  There was a huge increase in the crime rate by the middle of 1920 because of a jump in demand for illegal alcohol. Unlawful practices were enforced by many of the law enforcement agencies to keep up with this crime, and a National Committee on Law Observation and Enforcement was formed when the problem reached a national level. After multiple investigations a report was released on corruption in law enforcement. These reports revealed that physical abuse and other forms of cruelty were widely implemented by the interrogating police force in order to gain involuntary confessions. (Police Brutality?)

The Movement of African American Civil Rights was strongly targeted with numerous incidents of police brutality particularly during the Birmingham campaign of 1963–64 and during the Selma to Montgomery marches of 1965. This group fought for justice and equity for African Americans. The coverage of such violent events by the media further outraged the nation and the campaign gained huge sympathy. Martin Luther King passionately condemned police brutality in his national speeches. All of this police brutality, mainly attributed to the white police departments attacking black communities, led to the creation of the Black Panther party. The conflicts between the party and the police departments often resulted in huge incidences of violence. (Police Brutality Is Nothing New)

Riots have been a common trend in United States history, mostly because of race relations between white police officers and their treatment of African Americans. The arrest and beating of Rodney King in 1991 by the officers of the Los Angeles Police Department is one of many incidents resulting in the Los Angeles Riots, when four suspected officers were declared free of charge. (Police Brutality Is Nothing New)

During the Vietnam War, anti-war demonstrations were often worsened through the use of tear gas. Later in the Walker Report to the US National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence, the acts of police were described as police riots. Moreover, the War on Drugs in 1969 exhibited wide spread police misconduct. Shortly after the terrorist attacks on September 2001, serious concerns were raised about the police brutality. (Police Brutality?)

Several doctrines have been used throughout history to justify the excessive use of power and authority by the police force. Other factors that gave rise to the trend of police brutality over the course of time include the culture of police training. There was a system of national criminal justice that did not make the police strictly liable for their misconduct. The political system that was in place responded quickly to the police force and defended them. This political system was not as generous with the minority communities and dwellers of the inner city. A racist culture was born, with the strong fear of being victimized. (YoungDemCA, 2014)

Police brutality is defined as the use of an extreme or excessive force to achieve a lawful police purpose. ‘’Excessive use of force’’ means a force far greater than what is necessary in order to deal with the situation. Obviously this is a bit subjective but that is the definition. Police brutality involves false arrest, verbal abuse, psychological terrorization, sexual abuse, police corruption, racial profiling and political suppression. Police chiefs often worry about misuse of authority in the following ways: brutality; misuse of force, especially deadly force; over-enforcement of the law; bribery; making up evidence in the name of efficiency; failure to apply the law due to personal interests; and discrimination against particular citizens or groups. The most obvious form is physical abuse. Police officers are legally allowed to use nerve gas, batons, pepper spray, and guns in order to physically intimidate or even intentionally hurt other people. Police Brutality leads to demographic, economic and political changes on a very large scale.

Police brutality and violence perpetrated by police is highly condemned and criticized by the media. The media regards the brute use of force as a serious offense. The media coverage including camera and voice recordings of police officers have helped bring this problem to light. Media coverage of police brutality has become a trend and has exposed many police officials exhibiting cruelty and involvement in unimportant violence with civilians. Many journalism experts are now motivating people to record police officers’ communication and document it in public places. The media is changing the way that police brutality is viewed by U.S. citizens. This is a huge change from the past, when people were unaware of their rights and most incidents engaging police officers were suppressed and forgotten by the people. In the present day, people are aware of their rights and they fight back in response with social media as their support. Support by social media is pressuring both governments and police officials to be fair with people and to make sure justice is done.


This violence has a very long history, and has always been institutionalized one way or the other. The media accounts of police misconduct also influence perceptions of the police, but less than personal interactions (Hornberger, 2014).

Nowadays, frequent exposure to media reports of police abuse or brutality is a strong predictor of perceptions of misconduct, and supports the belief that it is very common. African-Americans who live in high-crime areas and who regularly hear others talk about police misconduct are especially expected to believe misconduct is common. However, studies were done that do not support this thought. A ten-month study of five precincts in New York City found that in the absence of major scandals, the news coverage of the police brutality did not have a significant effect on citizens’ views of the police.

Police cruelty or brutality has a cold history in the U.S. In the early days of policing, acts of intense cruelty were targeted at the laborers. From the Great Railroad Strike of 1876, to the Pullman Strike of 1895, moving towards the Ludlow massacre of 1915, the Steel strike of 1920 and the Hanapepe massacre occurred in 1924, the police have brutally beat and killed laborers who were striking. Next come Prohibition, The Civil Rights Movement, The Vietnam War and the Nixon administration. All of these events were considered to be large-scale acts of police chaos spanning from the early 20s towards the 60s. A U.S. Department of Justice report, stated on police brutality said that in 1999, “approximately 423,000 people, mostly 16 years old and older were estimated to have had contact with police by which the threat of force was utilized.” Another Department of Justice reported in 2006 indicated that out of 26,556 citizen complaints about excessive use of police force among agencies in 2002, about 2000 were sustained. Numerous human rights observers have raised their voices against increased police brutality.

Instances of police brutality in the U.S have been discussed all over the world in media since the 1990s. Nowadays, police shootings have caused many debates on the choices made by law enforcement organizations during the line of duty. Rodney King made headlines in 1991 when a video was released showing King being attacked various times by polices officers armed with batons. When those officers were acquitted of police cruelty in 1992, residents of Los Angeles responded by rioting. The Violent Crime Control initiated methods by which the Department of Justice and Law could address complaints of use of excessive force in a systematic manner. Rapidly growing public interest in the law enforcement officers have increased the use of technology to ensure an unbiased aspect of police-public interactions. Body cameras are becoming an important part of the police uniform. Police cars are equipped with dashboard cameras in order to record police interactions with the public.


Recently, people have experienced remarkable changes in their communities. Topics such as police cruelty and excessive use of force by police have become news headlines. The headlines make it feel as if the country is experiencing an unprecedented wave of police cruelty, but experts say that isn’t the issue. We’re just seeing more mainstream media coverage for various reasons. Events that happened 10 years ago would’ve come down to a suspect’s word versus an officer’s word are now recorded on cell phones and on officers’ body and dashboard cameras. In the past, when a news reporter could have taken days to travel to a city, find witnesses, interview them and get a police narrative, a bystander could’ve uploaded a video of a police encounter to the internet immediately. Because humans are visual creatures, videos can impact people more than a written or spoken narrative, and many experts put their faith on the fact that the image might help drive coverage of the incidents.

How deaths in custody occur?

Death in custody stays a controversial topic, with the authorities often being accused of abuse, neglect, racism and cover-ups of the causes of the deaths. It is worth noting that it is often a challenge for researchers to get valid information from such a range of varying public authorities. The authors found 308 inmate deaths, of which 291 are described in detail. Rates of death by poisoning, suicide, homicide and natural causes were compared with the rates of Canadian men in the general population aged 25–49 years. The surprising outcomes are that rates of death by both violent and natural causes in custody exceeded far from that of the rates in the general population. Deaths caused by accidental intoxication were 20 and 50 times more common among those in provincial and federal custody, respectively, and suicide by strangulation was 10 and 5 times more frequent. An excessive number of deaths from cardiovascular disease were found as well, affecting a disproportionate number of young people.

Both illicit drug use and suicide are major health problems in prisons. Studies conducted in several different countries have found an increase in suicide rates in prisons over the last fifty years. However, most of the results presented in the current literature are epidemiologic descriptions of suicide rates rather than that of the detailed analyses of the personal characteristics, social background, and criminal and psychiatric history of incarcerated people who commit suicide. We do not have much evidence concerning the social integration of those who have committed suicides compared with that of inmates who survived custody. So far, there is very little information available concerning natural deaths in custody. Natural deaths are the minority compared with violent and cruel deaths. Records were also taken of deaths from cancer, cardiovascular problems and other diseases. Reporting of high death rates in prison can help to focus attention on prison medical services and can facilitate the implementation of preventive programs, that have proven to be effective.

People in custody are more expected to die prematurely, especially of violent causes, than same people who are not in custody. Some of these deaths might be preventable.

This graph shows where there is a high rate of deaths that took place in police custody, there was a correlation of high rate of deaths as an outcome of police action. This is particularly high in Gauteng, which reflected the highest rate of deaths took place in custody, and as a result of a police action. The rate at which deaths occurred as an outcome of police action is two and a half times the frequency of deaths in custody. Deaths from police action occurred at significantly higher rates in Mpumalanga,-Natal and the Free State, and at almost seven times the frequency of deaths in custody in the Eastern Cape. In Western Cape, which had high rates of deaths in both categories, the deaths as a result of police action occurred at only 2 times the frequency of the deaths, which occurred in police custody.

The highest number of deaths occurred in the category of injuries inflicted by another person pre-custody. These accounted for 34% of the whole number of deaths in the dockets studied. The category of ‘deliberate self -harm in custody’ is the second biggest category, at 25.5% of the total number of deaths. This reflects the high number of suicides occurring in police custody. Deaths taking place from the medical conditions of prisoners, constitutes 21% of the total.

How institutions, norms, and attitudes have dealt with racial minorities and how those dealings affected the role of police?

The effectiveness of the police is based on the belief and confidence of the community people. Without belief and trust, police officers become less legitimate in the views of the public

The changes in police strategies in minority communities have been more problematic, and therefore any beneficial consequences of those changes for minorities have been less noticeable. The fact that the legal system not only condoned, but also sanctioned sustained slavery, segregation, and discrimination has a lot to do with this. For much of our Nation’s history the law has promoted the segregation of blacks and whites, and the fact that the police were bound to uphold that order-set a pattern for police behavior and attitudes towards minority communities that has continued until the present day. This pattern includes the idea that minorities have fewer civil rights, and that the task of the police is to keep them under control, and that the police have little duty for protecting them from crime within their communities. The fact that police actions triggered many of the riots and then could not control them, exposed to everyone the price of having a police department backed only by the power of the law, and not by the consent.

Research studies consistently indicate that minorities are expected to view law enforcement agencies with uncertainty and doubt. Minorities regularly report that the police disproportionately single them out because of their belonging to a specific group or community. Lawfulness means that the police officers should abide by fundamental constitutional, statutory, and professional standards. Legitimacy is connected to the public’s belief about the police officers and the public’s readiness to identify the authority of police.  Studies have show that race-related minority groups interpret that the police officers lack lawfulness and conformity to the law. This is based greatly on their interactions with the police, and can lead to mistrust of the police. Distrust of police has serious outcomes, which include undermining the justification of law enforcement. Because of this, police lose their capability and authority to work effectively.

Many law enforcement agencies have allowed researchers to study efforts that can be taken to enhance the lawfulness and conformity to the law of maintaining law and order activities. This research is done with the end goal of raising the the level of certitude, belief and confidence of the people they serve, while controlling crime in a manner to achieve desired results.

Personal interactions have the greatest impact on perceptions. People form opinions of the police based on their own interactions with them and the experiences they hear from trusted friends and relatives. They tend to focus on how police treat them, their processes and interactions, instead of the final outcome of those interactions. For example, research shows that people report positive impressions of an officer who treated them respectfully even if the officer gave them a speeding ticket.

Research also shows that an officer’s outward behavior and actions are vital to perceptions of police legitimacy. If officers communicate well, listen and treat people with respect, citizens will more often than not, respond with kindness. People who perceive that they received “procedural justice” are also likely to view the police as legitimate and trustworthy. They are likely to comply more in the future. Procedural justice is the notion that a process is justified, and that people have the opportunity to be heard, to be treated politely and respectfully, and judged by a neutral, unbiased system.

People’s civil rights and how knowing the law could protect a person?

A civil right is an enforceable right or privilege. If it is interfered by another individual, it would give rise to an action of harm. Civil rights are basically defined as freedom of speech, media, and assembly, and the right to be equal in society. Discrimination takes place when the civil rights of an individual are denied or interfered due to their belonging in a particular group or community. Various jurisdictions have enacted statutes to prevent discrimination based on certain traits which include the following: an individual’s race, sex, religion, age, community, previous condition of servitude, physical limitation, national origin, and sexual orientation. If civil rights of individuals or groups within a community are compromised, the public’s trust and confidence in the police is demolished. A primary purpose of civil rights laws is to protect citizens from abuses or misconduct by government, including police misconduct and cruelty. Civil rights laws allow for attorney fees and damages as incentives for injured people to enforce their rights. It is unlawful for anyone acting under the authority of state law to deprive anyone of his rights under legitimacy. The most common claims brought against police officers are false arrest, malicious prosecution and brute use of excessive force. Police officers have a responsibility to protect individuals from constitutional violations by other officers. Therefore, an officer who sees any other officer violating an individual’s rights may be liable to the victim for failing to intervene.

Civil rights claims are a necessary part of our legitimacy, providing a balance between the duty of law enforcement to uphold the laws, and the rights of individuals to be free from police misconduct. Cases against police officers can be difficult to solve. Officers may be immune from any investigation of lawsuit, even though an individual feels he was mistreated. Claims against police departments can also be expensive to bring because a lot of evidence must be secured, including records, statements of police, statements of witnesses, and various other documentation, to prove the misconduct or brutality.

The evidence supporting your claim is an important element in a police misconduct suit. If you feel you’ve been the victim of police misconduct, take photographs of any injuries or damage caused by the police. You must set aside clothing or other objects that were torn or stained with blood from the incident. Try to get the names and addresses or telephone numbers of anyone who have witnessed the incident. Also, write down exactly what happened as soon as possible, so that you don’t forget important details.

Civil rights are designed to ensure that people are treated equally and with respect to their ethnicity, gender, or other attributes. They guard against overly intrusive conduct by the government. Due process of law must be granted to individuals, and government actors are not permitted to make arbitrary decisions. Nor are they allowed to deprive individuals of their lives or private property without affording them due process of law. Civil rights violations are the catalyst to a large number of civil and criminal penalties for any offender. Attorneys practicing in this area of the law are generally engaged in getting financial compensation for victims. In making arrests, maintaining order, and defending life, law enforcement officers are allowed to use whatever force is “reasonably” necessary. The breadth and scope of the use of force is vast from just the physical presence of the officer to the use of deadly force. Violations of federal law occur when it can be shown that the force used was willfully “unreasonable” or “excessive.”  The public counts on its law enforcement officials to protect local communities. If it’s shown that an official intentionally failed to keep an individual away from harm, that official could be in violation of the civil rights.

Just because a person did not suffer broken bones or permanent damage as a consequence of the brutality, it does not mean their suffering is not worthy of an aggressive pursuit of justice. Sometimes, the worst damages in police brutality cases are usually the emotional ones.



There are three ways to complain about brutality or misconduct by police officers:

  • internal complaints,
  • criminal complaints,
  • civil suits

A person can use any one or more combination of these avenues. However, sometimes a police department will not conduct an investigation while there is a pending criminal complaint against the police officer. All police departments have methods of taking citizens’ complaints about police officers. Usually these complaints are referred to as internal affairs complaints. These complaints are investigated by other police officers. In larger police departments, there is often a separate division that handles these complaints. When a police agency finds that a police officer is at fault, rarely is it for brutality or an illegal arrest. Most supervisors worry that if they find a police officer has violated a person’s constitutional rights, the department or officer will be sued. As a result, many agencies would rather discipline an officer for failing to write a use of excessive force report or failing to write that the person arrested was injured.

Police use of excessive force is a federal civil rights violation. These allegations are investigated by the FBI and often are prosecuted by lawyers in the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department. A federal criminal civil rights prosecution can be very effective. Local police officers are not familiar figures in federal court, so they do not have the same bias in their favor that sometimes exists in state courts. However, federal prosecutors do not take many cases involving police officers. A federal prosecution may take place if the police misconduct is particularly outrageous. Prosecutors do not take cases unless they believe that they have very strong evidence to support them.


Atherley, L. T., & Hickman, M. J. (2014).Controlling use of force: Identifying police use of excessive force through analysis of administrative records. Policing: A Journal of Policy & Practice, 8(2), 123-134. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=i3h&AN=96309476&site=ehost-live

Hornberger, J. (2014). Political policing then and now. SA Crime Quarterly, (48), 17-24. doi:10.4314/sacq.v48i1.2

Law Enforcement: Police Misconduct in the United States. (n.d.). Retrieved Oct 06, 2015, from esheets: https://esheets.wordpress.com/history/

Police Brutality Is Nothing New. (n.d.). Retrieved Oct 06, 2015, from policemisconductandracialprofiling: http://policemisconductandracialprofiling.weebly.com/history.html

Police Brutality? (n.d.). Retrieved Oct 06, 2015, from World Of The Wicked: http://2012data.webs.com/policebrutality.htm

YoungDemCA. (2014, Aug 11). Police brutality in the United States (Wikipedia article-excerpts). Retrieved Oct 06, 2015, from democraticunderground: http://www.democraticunderground.com/10025368903

Porter, A. (2015). Riotous or righteous behaviour?representations of subaltern resistance in the australian mainstream media. Current Issues in Criminal Justice,26(3), 289-304. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=i3h&AN=103269932&site=ehost-live

Smith, B. W., & Holmes, M. D. (2014). Police use of excessive force in minority communities: A test of the minority threat, place, and community accountability hypotheses. Social Problems, 61(1), 83-104. doi:10.1525/sp.2013.12056