At the core of the traditional role of the police in our society is the ability and need to exercise coercion in performing some of their functions. With some unknown frequency and severity, law enforcement officers use various forms of verbal and physical coercion in performing their everyday functions of enforcing the law and maintaining order. How and when the police use and do not use physical force influence the immediate accomplishment of police functions. The use of force also affects public attitude that sustain or undermine the legitimacy of the police and the entire system of justice.
There is a long tradition of research about the police use of deadly force, and reviews of this research have identified the characteristics of who was killed, by whom, and under what circumstances, as well as plausible suggestions to explain why. The studies on use-of-force policies and training have generally been prescriptive and have rarely reported the frequency with which officers use particular levels of force.
The narrative accounts by independent researchers have tended to emphasize the researchers' personal interpretation of the police work and to highlight alleged and sometimes confirmed incidences of unusual, dramatic, illegal, or inappropriate behavior by officers or civilians (Garner, 715). These descriptions and insights provide a valuable basis for generating hypotheses about the nature of force and the situations in which force is used.
Official police records provide more structured data on more use-of-force incidents over a broader spectrum of police behavior in an entire jurisdiction for longer periods than is typically captured in personal narrative accounts. This approach suffers from the presumption of biases introduced by using officers' self-reports to their own use of force. Given the diversity of behaviors that are considered use of force in different departments and which types of force must be...