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Strange Bedfellows: Civil Liability and Aggressive Policing

NCJ Number
Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management Volume: 26 Issue: 2 Dated: 2003 Pages: 352-368
Kenneth J. Novak; Brad W. Smith; James Frank
Robert H. Langworthy
Date Published
17 pages

This study examined whether experience with and attitudes toward civil liability influence the behavior of police officers, specifically an officer’s propensity to make arrests, use force, conduct searches and initiate encounters with suspects.


The use of civil litigation has increased dramatically since the 1960's. Mixed findings have previously been found in police perceptions of the influence of liability on their behavior. This paper, supported by the U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, focuses on the influence of liability on everyday street-level officer behavior. Specifically, it examines the relationship between attitudes toward liability and officer behaviors that are most often associated with civil litigation, including arrests, use of force, searches of suspects, and proactive encounters with suspects of criminal activity. Data were taken from self-report surveys and observations with police officers in the Cincinnati Police Division (CPD). Between April 1997 and April 1998, trained observers conducted 442 systematic social observations with police officers in the CPD. The findings show that liability concerns failed to influence behavior to the extent expected. References