Police brutality is a hotly debated topic in the country. According to the database published by the Washington Post, 892 people have been shot and killed by police in 2016. The database was created using news reports, public records, social media, and other sources. The lack of government records or tracking systems makes it difficult to estimate the true impact of police brutality. Unfortunately, the victims of police abuse are among society’s most vulnerable citizens.

The police need broad authority to carry out their duties. Nonetheless, it is not uncommon for law enforcement officers to overstep their authority. In fact, on-duty officers often end up using unnecessary or unreasonable force against the person whom they are arresting. When such incidents happen, legal claims for police brutality or abuse may arise. Understanding police brutality is perhaps the best way to fight such abuse of power.

Here is a list of five common types of police misconduct:

  • Police Brutality and Use of Excessive Force
    Police brutality often arises from the excessive use of force by law enforcement officers. According to a survey conducted by the CATO institute, excessive force remains the most common type of police brutality. The police need to use physical force to apprehend armed suspects and criminals with a history of violence. However, they may use more force than necessary when arresting a person, resulting in police brutality.

    Several different kinds of excessive forces may fall under the category of police brutality. These may include, but are not limited to: Baton beatings, firearm usage, improper takedowns, and unwarranted use of tasers. Excessive force may lead to serious injuries or even death. The law clearly states that the police should not rough up or physically hurt a person during an arrest, especially an unarmed suspect with no prior history of violence. In fact, police officers are supposed to use firearms as a last resort.

    More often than not, police need to use physical force to subdue a suspect. They may use batons or electric tasers to do so. However, if used with excessive force, baton beatings can cause serious injuries including fractures, internal bleeding, and spinal cord injuries. Therefore, a law enforcement agency doesn't allow its officers to use batons against a suspect's head. Though used as a less lethal alternative to firearms, tasers can also cause severe bodily harm, including trauma, injuries, and even a heart attack.

  • False Arrest or Wrongful Imprisonment
    A false arrest occurs when law enforcement officers take a person into custody without an arrest warrant or probable cause. A false arrest can violate federal civil rights law, as well as state common law. According to the Fourth Amendment of the United States’ Constitution, the police can't arrest an individual without a proper arrest warrant from a judge. Besides, law enforcement agencies can't detain a person without probable cause or evidence. The arrested suspect should be taken before a court or a magistrate within reasonable time. Failure to do so may lead to a wrongful arrest claim against the officer in question.

    Usually, a plaintiff is entitled to receive compensation for loss of liberty as well as physical pain and mental suffering caused by the false arrest. The jury may also consider the loss of time, injury to reputation, lost wages, and expenses incurred in securing discharge. However, it is almost impossible to predict the amount of compensation awarded in a false arrest case. The jury may award more compensation is a case where the plaintiff suffered extreme physical pain and mental anguish.

  • Wrongful Search and Seizure
    The Fourth Amendment clearly states that law enforcement agencies need a probable cause to search you or your property. Usually, law enforcement agencies need to present their probable cause to a judge or a court for securing a valid search warrant. A search warrant allows police to search a particular location such as a house or an office for specific items or materials.

    However, there are several situations where a law enforcement officer may not need the warrant to search you or your belongings. For example, the police can search your house without a warrant if you were arrested lawfully for a crime. A search warrant also entitles the police to enter your house without your permission or in your absence.

  • Racial Discrimination
    No person should suffer unlawful treatment from a law enforcement officer, especially based on racial discrimination. The purpose of law enforcement agencies is to protect every U.S. citizen. However, several independent studies have shown that police officers often act with a bias against black or Hispanic americans.

    According to a recent study conducted by Stanford researchers, police are more likely to search African-American and Hispanic motorists compared to Whites and Asians. The study also revealed that police were less likely to find drugs or firearms in searches of these vehicles than the searches of a White or an Asian driver.

  • Sexual Harassment and Abuse
    A legal action may arise if a police officer has sexually abused or violated a person placed in his/her custody. Sexual predators in law enforcement target not only the general public, but also fellow female officers and staff. The extent of this problem, however, is difficult determine due to the lack of a nationwide database.

    The government currently doesn't have a system to document such cases. But, several independent studies have established that the problem is more widespread than it appears. A year-long investigation by the Associated Press revealed that around 1,000 police officers lost their licenses in a six-year period from 2009 to 2014 for various sexual offenses. Nearly 550 of these officers lost their license for rape, groping, and shakedowns. The remaining officers lost their badges for other sexual offenses, such as child pornography; voyeurism in the guise of police work; and consensual, but prohibited, on-duty intercourse.

Police brutality is the excessive use of force by police when dealing with civilians. It mostly comprises unnecessary use of physical force, but can also include verbal and psychological abuse, harassment, and discrimination. Fortunately, you can bring a civil action lawsuit against the police officers who overstepped authority. Hopefully, the above five points will help you identify and fight off such incidents.