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Police Use of Force: A Transactional Approach

NCJ Number
William Terrill
Date Published
March 2005
32 pages
In an attempt to better understand the transactional process of the police-suspect encounter, specifically the use of force by police, this study examined thousands of police-suspect encounters from an observational standpoint.
Force continuum is a guideline representing the appropriate amount of force that should be utilized by a law enforcement officer in generic situations. By using the continuum as a measuring standard, the intent of this study was to determine the extent to which police apply force proportionally, and when applicable, incrementally throughout an encounter. The analysis drew on the observational dataset of the Project on Policing Neighborhoods (POPN). Patrol observations were conducted in 12 police beats in both Indianapolis, IN, and St. Petersburg, FL. Two models were estimated in the research design. Force 1 involved those cases where the suspect never displayed resistance at any point during the encounter. Force 2 involved cases where a suspect displayed some form of resistance. The officer was presented with four options; follow the continuum or deviate in one of three ways (refrain, jump, or refrain and jump). The results indicate that officers escalated the level of force in about one of five encounters involving nonresistant suspects and de-escalated the level of force in three of four encounters involving resistant suspects. The findings suggest that before there can be a judgment made on the appropriateness of police force, the extent to which force is applied proportionately and incrementally should be measured and considered. In summary, the best police work is accomplished when carried out in the least coercive manner possible, and applying force sparingly ultimately serves to enhance the legitimacy of the institution as a whole. References