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Above the Law: Police and the Excessive Use of Force

NCJ Number
J H Skolnick; J J Fyfe
Date Published
331 pages
Using the acquittal of the four Los Angeles white police officers who beat black motorist Rodney King, this book examines the practice and extent of police violence in the U.S. and recommends ways to remedy a problem which is undermining public confidence in law enforcement agencies across the country.
The first section places police use of excessive force in an historical context, discussing the posse and other vigilante groups and the police role as controllers of public order. The cultural world of policing, namely the values and understanding which street cops pick up as they learn their jobs, affects their performance. The authors note two particularly dangerous police attitudes that may encourage police brutality: the role of cops as soldiers in the war on drugs and the insularity and authoritarianism of some administrations. As a result, many officers feel their actions are beyond accountability. Recommendations for reform fall into several categories: police administrative reform and police accountability enforced through the courts and by the public.