Serious cases of abuse of police authority often stimulate intense public debate. For example, a videotape of Rodney King being beaten by Los Angeles police officers or reports of the torture of Abner Louima by New York City police capture the public’s attention and raise troubling questions regarding the limits of legitimate police authority in a democratic society. Are such events isolated occurrences in particular police departments or extreme examples of a more general problem plaguing police departments across the United States? Does the fact that such abuses often involve minority victims reveal important disparities in the way that law enforcement officers treat members of certain racial, socioeconomic, or cultural groups? In turn, what measures can be taken to constrain police abuse, and which are likely to be most effective? Although such questions have been raised and debated in the media, by politicians, and by police scholars and administrators, little is known about how police officers themselves view these critical issues. With the support of the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, U.S. Department of Justice, the Police Foundation—a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C., that seeks to improve policing in America through research— surveyed a representative national sample of American police officers to explore their attitudes on the abuse of authority by police (see “Study Methodology”). The survey sought to determine whether officers view abuse of authority as an inevitable byproduct of increased efforts to control crime and disorder. It also asked what forms of abuse exist, how common abuse of authority is, and what strategies and tactics would be most effective in preventing police from abusing authority. The survey also considered how communityoriented policing has affected officers’ attitudes on abuse of authority and the rule of law. In particular, it explored whether community policing has led police to show greater respect for the rights of citizens or, conversely, has increased the potential for police abuse and encouraged police officers to expand the boundaries of acceptable use of police authority.
|National Institute of Justice Research in Brief
|National Institution of Justice U.S. Department of Justice