Using data collected as part of a systematic social observation study of police officers in Indianapolis, IN, and St. Petersburg, FL, this research examined the prevalence and nature of both verbal and physical coercion used by policewomen in daily encounters with citizens.
The study used systematic social observation through researchers' "ride-alongs" with officers during their daily tasks as well as in-person interviews of the officers. Data were obtained from both police departments during the summers of 1996 and 1997. Observers recorded contact with approximately 6,500 citizens in Indianapolis and 5,500 citizens in St. Petersburg. The current study focused on the 3,356 encounters with people whom police or citizens placed in the role of suspect. The study defined "coercion" as "acts that threaten or inflict physical harm on citizens." The analysis used the highest level of force applied in each encounter. In addition to officer gender, other characteristics examined in relation to officer use of coercion were officer race, highest level of education, and years of professional experience. The measure of suspect "resistance" was "acts that thwart, obstruct, or impede an officer's attempt to elicit information; failure to respond or responding negatively to an officer's commands or threats; and any physical act, proactive or reactive, against an officer's attempt to control the suspect." This study found that both male and female officers used coercion in similar proportions, and both tended to use verbal force at higher rates than physical coercion. Male police officers were more likely to use higher levels of force against male suspects, and levels of force used by female officers were statistically independent of suspect gender. 5 tables, 10 notes, and 56 references