Police brutality is a social issue of considerable magnitude in the contemporary United States. Understandably, violence and killing can be necessary for police work, especially when interacting with armed and dangerous criminals who pose an immediate threat to public safety. Yet it is not so much the fact of violence itself – although it can also be unprovoked – but the demographic distribution of said killing between the different groups of the American population that raises questions. Statistically speaking, police brutality and police killing target racial minorities, especially African Americans, to a much greater degree than the white population. The nationwide proliferation of the Black Lives Matter movement may testify to the issue’s importance. That raises a legitimate question of the best strategy to reduce police brutality and address racial disparities. Evidence suggests that diversification of the police is the best option because it makes the force closer to the communities they police and reduces the possibility of excessive use of force.
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Before discussing the solutions to the issue of police brutality in the United States, it is necessary to provide data that outlines the problem. Precise data on the matter is elusive because even the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program aggregating data on police-civilian interactions is not mandatory for police departments to participate (Tregle et al. 26). According to a non-government-affiliated project, the average yearly number of police killings in the United States fluctuates between 1100 and 1200 cases (“Police Violence Map”). More than one-quarter of this number is African Americans, roughly twice their share of the population. Scholarly sources have also placed the estimated number of African American fatalities resulting from police-civilian encounters at around 300 per year, corroborating this data (Bor et al. 302). There is also data that African Americans are less likely to be shot when arrested for violent crimes or weapons offenses, suggesting that when they are shot, they are likely unarmed (Tregle et al. 24). Thus, there is a statistically significant trend of police brutality disproportionally targeting minorities, especially blacks, which calls for solutions.
One may argue that the best possible solution to the issue of police brutality is purely technical, such as the ubiquitous use of body cameras and dashboard cameras. The reasoning is straightforward: if every case of violence in police-civilian interactions, including unmotivated use of force, is documented, it would be much easier to ensure justice for everyone involved. Such an approach can be useful for both police officers and civilians because it would provide true-to-fact information on individual cases. Apart from that, recordings from dash-mounted and body cameras can serve as justification for reasonable complaints on civilians’ part or help to “exonerate an officer who is… accused of wrongdoing” without due reason (Carter 553). However, this solution can only be sufficiently effective if the recordings in question are “released as soon as possible,” which is not necessarily the case (Carter 553). Moreover, this approach only concerns what is to be done when an instance of police brutality has already occurred, but not what can be done to prevent it. Hence, while technical measures are necessary, one cannot adopt them as the main strategy to address police brutality.
Another possible solution that is often advocated as a way to address police brutality and the disproportionate targeting of minorities, as well as other related issues, is organizational change. The strength of this approach is that it recognizes it will likely take “more than firing or disciplining the bad apples on the force” to solve the problem (Masur and McAdams, 140). Rather, it requires suppressing informal codes of loyalty which stress the support for fellow officers even in the cases of unjustified use of force. One of the evident steps is appointing special prosecutors to alleviate the threat of bias due to local prosecutors and police departments working together (Carter 552). While quite sound, this approach suffers from the same downside that the one described in the previous paragraph: it is reactive rather than proactive and only addresses police brutality after it has occurred. Thus, one may agree that organizational change is also a necessary component of the overall strategy to address police brutality but not the best option if one aims to prevent it.
Diversification of the police staffing seems to be the optimal approach in this case, particularly because the greater racial variety of the force can make it more representative of the community it polices. Evidence suggests that this proximity may make the force more apprehensive of the needs of the community they service without sacrificing the efficiency of law and order enforcement. Carter points out that the police departments that are “more reflective of the communities they patrol” decrease the risks of police brutality occurring (553). Black and Hispanic officers are less likely to harass civilians from minority groups than their white counterparts (Ba et al. 701). It is important to note that this difference in enforcement does not extend to serious crimes and mainly concerns the cases of minor offenses or no offenses at all. In other words, black or Hispanic officers react just as vigorously to crimes that seriously threaten public safety but are less likely to stop an individual on the grounds of “suspicious behavior” (Ba et al. 699). These statistics showcase the benefits of racial diversification of the police force.
Similarly, gender diversification also has a significant promise in terms of reducing the rates of police brutality in the United States. Empirical evidence demonstrates that female officers from any racial group generally make fewer arrests per the same number of shifts as compared to males (Ba et al. 700). Similarly, they use force less often and are less likely to target minorities than their male counterparts (Ba et al. 700). Admittedly, one may opt to explain this disparity through the physical difference between the sexes, but this explanation would hold little merit. Using violence in contemporary policing depends on technical means, such as tasers or firearms, much more than muscular strength, and female officers have the same equipment as males. It is more likely that the explanation is psychological rather than physical. According to Bergman et al., female officers are less psychologically likely “to engage in extreme use of force” than their male counterparts (591). This weighed approach to violence characteristic of female officers may also be beneficial for reducing the rates of police brutality.
A useful example to illustrate the potential positive impact of diversifying the police would be Chicago. It is particularly suitable because Chicago has some of the greatest rates of police brutality, disproportionally targeting minorities in the USA. Police killings of blacks have been occurring 22 times more often than whites across 2013-2020, one of the highest disparities in American metropolitan areas (“Police Violence Map”). A study of Chicago police demonstrated that black officers made 31 percent fewer stops for “suspicious behavior,” and their rate of the use of force against minorities is 38 percent lower (Ba et al. 699). Similarly, Hispanic officers make 6 percent fewer stops, and the rate of their use of force is 12 percent lower than that of white officers (Ba et al. 700). As for the female officers of the Chicago police, they are 28 percent less likely to use force against civilians (Ba et al. 700). This example shows that diversification of police can produce a significant reduction in police brutality even in the locations that demonstrate some of the highest rates of police violence in the country.
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As one can see, diversification of the police force is the optimal strategy to address the acute issue of police brutality, especially it’s disproportionate targeting of minorities. While there are other proposed solutions, such as improved technical means for monitoring police work or organizational change, they only aim to address police brutality after it has occurred instead of preventing it. Evidence shows that minority officers are just as uncompromising in fighting crimes that present a high threat to public safety but are less prone to stop for suspicious behavior or other highly discretionary reasons. Similarly, female police officers are less likely to use force excessively. With this in mind, race and gender diversification of the police force appears to be the best currently available strategy to address police brutality in the USA.
Ba, Bocar A., et al. “The Role of Officer Race and Gender in Police-Civilian Interactions in Chicago.” Science, vol. 371, 2021, pp. 696-702.
Bergman. Mindy E. “A Simple Solution to Policing Problems: Women!” Industrial and Organizational Psychology, vol. 9, no. 3, 2016, pp. 590-597.
Bor, Jacob, et al. “Police Killings and Their Spillover Effects on the Mental Health of Black Americans: A Population-Based, Quasi-Experimental Study.” The Lancet, vol. 392, no. 10144, 2018, pp. 302-310.
Carter, Corinthia A. “Police Brutality, the Law & Today’s Social Justice Movement: How the Lack of Police Accountability Has Fueled #hashtag Activism.” City University of New York Law Review, vol. 20, no. 2, 2017, pp. 521-557.
Masur, Jonathan, and Richard H. McAdams. “Police violence in The Wire.” University of Chicago Legal Forum, vol. 2018, 2019, pp. 139-161.
“Police Violence Map.” Mapping Police Violence.
Tregle, Brendon, et al. “Disparity Does Not Mean Bias: Making Sense of Observed Racial Disparities in Fatal Officer-Involved Shootings with Multiple Benchmarks.” Journal of Crime and Justice, vol. 42, no. 1, 2019, pp. 18-31.