Answers to “You Decide” Boxes

Suggested answers to “You Decide” boxes in the text provide a well-researched rationale behind the recommended response to key issues facing the law enforcement profession.

Sometimes the police need to order people around and sometimes all they need to do is politely ask, but they need to take charge. The situation dictates their actions. The majority of citizens have no problem with the authority given to the police, nor the way they use it. When the police exert extreme force to catch (or even shoot) a dangerous felon, citizens generally don’t object, but the suspect’s relatives prefer police to use milder tactics. Hence the paradox of enforcement—police must use violence to prevent violence (Johnston, 2014).

    One of the fundamental concerns of police administrators is directing, controlling, and monitoring the use of force by their officers. This issue occupies the public’s interest and contributes to a climate of distrust and animosity between the police and the citizens they serve. One needs to understand the purpose of and necessity for force in order to appreciate the difficulty of deciding how much force is necessary. Police officers have a lot of discretion in how they choose to act, but doing nothing is not an option. The police must take control (Miller, 2008).

    To fulfill their crime fighting and order maintenance roles, police must use force to restore order, take charge, or capture and control noncompliant suspects. Incidents of force frequently spark criticism and controversy. Despite an evolution in the responsibilities placed on the police, the essential role of protecting the public has not changed much since they were first founded in this country. The police are charged with the maintenance of order and enforcing laws. They are often seen as the most visible and powerful arm of government (Miller, 2008).    

    In a study of the functions of police, noted criminal justice scholar Egon Bittner proposed: “the police are nothing else than a mechanism for the distribution of situationally justified force in society “(1970, p. 39). Bittner states that most police work involves stopping “something-that-ought-not-to-be-happening-and-about-which-somebody-had-better-do-something- now” (Bittner, 1970; p. 39). This identifies the core of the debate on how much force police should use to bring order to chaos. Bittner (1970) recognized that excessive, unnecessary, or minimal use of force by police is very difficult to define or quantify.

    For some members of the public, politicians and some police administrators, the simple solution is to use less force. Fyfe (1987) explored the negative consequences of both unnecessary force by officers and the consequences of insufficient use of force by police. The use of unnecessary force by police can lead to significant negative consequences, to include unnecessary injuries to the suspect or death, community complaints, distrust of the police, civil liability, civil unrest, and federal injunctive orders. Insufficient use of force exposes officers to harm or death, negatively affects an officer’s ability to enforce the law, and may increase the danger to public safety. Fyfe (1987) concludes that unnecessary force “could be avoided by measures such as better training, officer selection, and other use-of-force options”

    According to statistics by the Department of Justice, among persons who had contact with police in 2008, an estimated 1.4% had force used or threatened against them during their most recent contact, which was not statistically different from the percentages in 2002 (1.5%) and 2005 (1.6%). A majority of the people who had force used or threatened against them said they felt it was excessive (Eith, 2011).


International Association of Chiefs of Police [IACP], 2001, p.2

Miller, Michael E., (2008), Examining the Effect of Organizational Policy Change on Taser Utilizations, ProQuest LLC.

Bittner, E. (1970). The Functions of the Police in Modern Society. U.S. Department of Justice National Institute of Justice. P.39,

Fyfe, James J., "Police Use of Deadly Force: Research and Reform," Justice Quarterly 5 (June 1987).

Eith, C. (2011). “Contacts Between Police and the Public, 2008.” U.S. Department of Justice Special Report, doi: NCJ 234599.