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Widespread police brutality exists in many countries, even those that prosecute it. It is one of several forms of police misconduct, which include: false arrest; intimidation; racial profiling; political repression; surveillance abuse; sexual abuse; and police corruption. However, as aforementioned, it may involve physical force but never reaching death under police custody. Although illegal, it can be done under the color of law.
The word "brutality" has several meanings; the sense used here (savage cruelty) was first used in 1633. The first known use of the term "police brutality" was in the New York Times in 1893, describing a police officer's beating of a civilian.
The origin of modern policing based on the authority of the nation state is commonly traced back to developments in seventeenth and eighteenth century France, with modern police departments being established in most nations by the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Cases of police brutality appear to have been frequent then, with "the routine bludgeoning of citizens by patrolmen armed with nightsticks or blackjacks." Large-scale incidents of brutality were associated with labor strikes, such as the Great Railroad Strike of 1877, the Pullman Strike of 1894, the Lawrence textile strike of 1912, the Ludlow massacre of 1914, the Steel strike of 1919, and the Hanapepe massacre of 1924.
Portions of the population may perceive the police to be oppressors. In addition, there is a perception that victims of police brutality often belong to relatively powerless groups, such as minorities, the disabled, the young, and the poor.
Hubert Locke writes,
When used in print or as the battle cry in a black power rally, police brutality can by implication cover a number of practices, from calling a citizen by his or her first name to a death by a policeman's bullet. What the average citizen thinks of when he hears the term, however, is something midway between these two occurrences, something more akin to what the police profession knows as "alley court"—the wanton vicious beating of a person in custody, usually while handcuffed, and usually taking place somewhere between the scene of the arrest and the station house.
In 1991, Los Angeles police harshly beat African American Rodney King and his two passengers while a civilian videotaped the incident, leading to extensive media coverage and criminal charges against several of the officers involved. Hours after the four police officers involved were acquitted at trial, the Los Angeles riots of 1992 commenced, causing 53 deaths, 2,383 injuries, more than 7,000 fires, damage to 3,100 businesses, and nearly $1 billion in financial losses. After facing federal trial, two of the four the officers were convicted and received 32 months prison sentence. The case was widely seen as a key factor in the reform of the Los Angeles police department.
According to data released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (2011), between 2003 and 2009 at least 4,813 people died in the process of being arrested by local police. Of the deaths classified as law enforcement “homicides,” 2,876 deaths occurred of which 1,643 or 57.1% of the people who died were "people of color".
Politically motivated riots and protest have occurred historically in China, notably with the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. Within the past decade, groups such as Falun Gong have protested party measures and been broken up by riot police. Chinese dissidents have been able to arrange effective mobilization through use of social media and informal communication like Twitter and its Chinese counterparts Weibo or microblogs.
Foreign journalists from Switzerland have reported cases of police harassment. Media suppression has increased in the wake of the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia. Plainclothes policemen are often deployed during demonstrations to suppress violence. Censorship is often maintained as a measure to maintain political stability in China. Web activists can be charged by the police for using false identities to surf the Internet. After arrests, homes of the arrested individual are often searched for incriminating evidence such as computers, hard drives, and flash drives.
Russian protests have gained media attention with the reelection of Vladimir Putin in 2012. Attention has been given to incidence of violence via posting videos online. President Dmitry Medvedev has initiated reforms of the police force, in an attempt to minimize the violence by firing Moscow police chief and centralizing police powers. Police divisions in Russia are often based on loyalty systems that favor bureaucratic power amongst political elites. Phone tapping and business raids are common practice in the country, and often fail to give due process to citizens. Proper investigations of police officials still remains lacking by western standards.
In 2012, Russia's top investigative agency investigated charges that four police officers had tortured detainees under custody. Human rights activists claim that Russian police use torture techniques to extract false confessions from detainees. Police regulations require quotas of officers for solved crimes, a practice that encourages false arrests to meet their numbers.
Historically, anti-communist police brutality was commonplace during the 1920s and 1930s - in the wake of the Finnish Civil War. Some local sections of the secret police (Etsivä Keskuspoliisi) routinely beat up arrested communists. As of 2014, there are 7700 police officers in Finland. Annually, there are a few hundred crime reports made where one of the police is the suspect and tens of cases in which police officers are convicted of crimes committed whilst on duty. Typically, these cases either concern vehicular collisions in pursuit or the excessive use of force.
In 2006, a 51-year-old police officer attracted a 16-year-old girl to his house by showing her his badge, where he got her drunk and raped her twice. In 2007, an Iranian-born immigrant, Rasoul Pourak, was beaten in a cell at Pasila Police Station, Helsinki. The ill-treatment caused Pourak bruises all over the body, an open wound over his eyebrow, and a fractured skull. In addition, facial bones were broken and the victim was left permanently damaged. One guard participating in the assault was sentenced to an 80-day suspended prison sentence. In 2010, two police officers assaulted a man in a wheelchair in connection with an arrest. The police twisted the man's hands and pushed him backwards causing him to break a femur. In 2013, two policemen were sentenced fines for assault and breach of duty in connection with stamping on a man’s head onto the asphalt thrice. According to the police, the man of Romani descent resisted, yet according to eyewitnesses, the man did not resist. The event was captured in surveillance video, which was stored but somehow destroyed.
Islamic extremists in Indonesia have been targeted by police as terrorists in the country. Police may either capture or kill dissidents. Cases of police corruption with hidden bank accounts and retaliation against journalists who attempt to uncover these cases have occurred such as in June 2012, when Indonesian magazine Tempo had journalist activists beaten by police. Separately, on August 31, 2013 police officers in Central Sulawesi province fired into a crowd of people protesting the death of a local man in police custody. Five people were killed and 34 injured. History of violence goes back to the military-backed Suharto regime (1967–1998), from which Suharto seized power during an anti-Communist purge.
Criminal investigations into human rights violations by the police are rare, punishments light and Indonesia has no independent national body to deal effectively with public complaints. Amnesty International has called on Indonesia to review police tactics during arrests and public order policing, to ensure that they meet international standards.
There have been a number of high-profile cases of alleged police brutality, including 2010 G-20 Toronto summit protests, the 2012 Quebec student protests, and the Robert Dziekański taser incident. The recent public incidents in which police judgments or actions have been called into question have raised fundamental concerns about police accountability and governance.
On March 16, 2014, 300 people were arrested in Montreal during a protest against police brutality.
Turkey has a history of police brutality, including (particularly between 1977 and 2002) the use of torture. Police brutality featuring excessive use of tear gas (including targeting protestors with tear gas canisters), pepper spray and water cannon as well as physical violence against protestors has been seen, for example, in the suppression of Kurdish protests and May Day demonstrations. The 2013 protests in Turkey were in response to the brutal police suppression of an environmentalist sit-in protesting the removal of Taksim Gezi Park.
In 2012 a number of officials received prison sentences for their role in the death in custody of political activist Engin Çeber.
The European Court of Human Rights has noted the failure of the Turkish investigating authorities to carry out effective investigations into allegations of ill-treatment by law enforcement personnel during demonstrations.
Police brutality was a major drive behind 2011 Egyptian revolution; the incident of Khaled Said's death and other stories, yet very little has changed since. One of the "demands" around which people decided to take it to the streets in Egypt is "purging the Ministry of Interior" for its brutality and torture practices. Things are said to have gone wrong following the ouster of Morsi regarding police reforms. Police are said to have used brutal force again while dispersing a pro-Morsi sit-in near the Rabaa al-Adawiya square, with the official death toll at nearly 600, in what is said to be one of the most brutal uses of force against civilians in Egypt's modern history.
Throughout history the United States has seen major political and social movements that have increased the appearance of excessive force, including the civil rights movement of the 1960s, anti-war demonstrations, the War on Drugs, and the Global War on Terrorism.
Police officers are legally permitted to use force, and their superiors—and the public — expect them to do so. According to Jerome Herbert Skolnick, in dealing largely with disorderly elements of the society, some people working in law enforcement may gradually develop an attitude or sense of authority over society, particularly under traditional reaction-based policing models; in some cases the police believe that they are above the law.
There are many reasons as to why police officers are excessively aggressive to civilians. It is thought that some personality traits make some officers more susceptible to the use of excessive force than others. In one study police psychologists were surveyed on officers who had used excessive force. The information obtained allowed the researchers to develop five unique types of officers, only one of which was similar to the bad apple stereotype. These include personality disorders, previous traumatic job-related experience, young inexperienced or macho officers; officers who learn inappropriate patrol styles, and officers with personal problems. clarify][
However, this "bad apple paradigm" is considered by some to be an "easy way out". A broad report commissioned by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police on the causes of misconduct in policing calls it "a simplistic explanation that permits the organization and senior management to blame corruption on individuals and individual faults – behavioural, psychological, background factors, and so on, rather than addressing systemic factors." The report goes on to discuss the systemic factors, which include:
Police use of force is kept in check in many jurisdictions by the issuance of a use of force continuum. A use of force continuum sets levels of force considered appropriate in direct response to a subject's behavior. This power is granted by the civil government, with limits set out in statutory law as well as common law.
Violence used by police can be excessive despite being lawful, especially in the context of political repression. Indeed "police brutality" is often used to refer to violence used by the police to achieve politically desirable ends and, therefore, when none should be used at all according to widely held values and cultural norms in the society (rather than to refer to excessive violence used where at least some may be considered justifiable).
Studies show that there are officers who believe the legal system they serve is failing and that it is their duty to pick up the slack. This is known as "vigilantism", where the officer involved may think the suspect deserves more punishment than what they may have to serve under the court system.
In England and Wales, an independent organization known as the Independent Police Complaints Commission investigates reports of police misconduct. They automatically investigate any deaths caused by, or thought to be caused by, police action.
A similar body operates in Scotland, known as the Police Complaints Commissioner for Scotland. In Northern Ireland the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland has a similar role to that of the IPCC and PCCS.
Various community groups have criticized police brutality. These groups often stress the need for oversight by independent citizen review boards and other methods of ensuring accountability for police action.
Umbrella organizations and justice committees (often named after a deceased individual or those victimized by police violence) usually engage in a solidarity of those affected. Amnesty International is another organization active in the issue of police brutality. Amnesty International, also known as AI, is a non-governmental organization focused on human rights with over 3 million members and supporters around the world. The stated objective of the organization is "to conduct research and generate action to prevent and end grave abuses of human rights, and to demand justice for those whose rights have been violated."
Citizens and communities have begun independent projects to monitor police activity in an effort to reduce violence and misconduct. These are often called "Cop Watch" programs.
Proper supervision by competent police supervisors and administration can reduce police misconduct.