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What is excessive force by the police?

The police -- along with certain other government officials -- are legally entitled to use force to protect themselves, protect others or mitigate the overall risk of harm.

At the same time, this privilege given to the police and a few others is balanced against each citizen's right to be free from "excessive force."

How do you define excessive force?

In recent years, that's become a more difficult question because there have been stronger attitudes emerging on a variety of hot-button political subjects that tend to make people reactive and angry.

There have also been a lot of highly-publicized instances where rogue police officers have committed acts that are both immoral and illegal, which has sensitized the public to the entire issue of excessive force in general.

Excessive force, generally defined, is any sort of unnecessary police brutality.

In other words, if the police officer could accomplish his or her stated objective simply by ordering a crowd to disperse and they did, he or she would be showing excessive force if he or she hit a few of the stragglers or slowest to move on the ankles with a police baton just to teach them to move faster when ordered.

What do you do if you become the victim of excessive force?

First, as difficult as it may be, try to remain calm. Any officer who resorts to excessive force is already dangerous and out of control, so you are risking your personal safety by saying or doing anything -- even just reminding him or her that you have legal rights.

  • Even if it galls you, be compliant. You can sort out what shouldn't have happened later in court -- where you're physically safe.
  • You can file a complaint with the department.
  • You can file a complaint with the Department of Justice
  • You can -- and should -- contact an attorney with experience in police misconduct.

If you've been the victim of excessive force by the police -- whether it was verbal harassment, physical threats with or without a weapon, intimidation or shakedowns, you're entitled to monetary relief. For example, a nurse in Utah who was arrested for simply doing her job (and because the officer in charge didn't like the laws he was required to follow) recently settled her excessive force complaint for $500,000.

Source: FindLaw, "Excessive Force and Police Brutality," accessed Nov. 03, 2017

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