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Police Brutality and the Law

The duty of the police is to serve and protect the civilians of their country. All too often though, police get caught up in the heat of the moment and act under what some refer to as “High Speed Pursuit Syndrome”.

The History of Policing

Cases of police brutality probably date as far back as the history of policing itself. Our first records of modern policing– with police enforcing the laws of a nation state - are from France in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. By the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, most countries had police forces. The term “police brutality” first appeared in an 1893 edition of the New York Times.

 Police batons
Image by Kim Traynor

Definition of Police Brutality

Any unlawful or excessive use of force by a police officer constitutes police brutality. However, it’s not always easy to determine whether an officer’s use of force was excessive or unreasonable. It’s also not always clear whether police actions are directly to blame for subsequent injuries or fatalities. In a recent case in the United Kingdom, for example, police struck Ian Tomlinson in the back of the legs with a baton. Tomlinson was able to get up and walk a distance of 200 metres, at which point he had a fatal heart attack. So did the police directly cause this man’s death?

What’s new today is that we’re surrounded by cameras, making it less likely that cases of police brutality will go unnoticed. With cellphones that include built-in cameras and video functions, almost anyone can document the events they witness, as the events occur. This is what happened in the case of Ian Tomlinson, whose attack was caught on video by a passer-by. Several other incidents of extreme police violence have been captured by surveillance cameras, which are a fairly new feature on the streets of modern cities. This type of raw footage and its airing in the media have done little to help the reputation of police officers worldwide.

Ian Tomlinson
Police officers toe a tricky line, given that their superiors and the public both expect them to use force, and even deadly force, in certain contexts. It’s also a well-recognised phenomenon that law enforcement officers gradually develop a sense that they are above the law, or that they themselves decide the law. A final contributing factor is what many refer to as “The Blue Code”, which is the in-house sense of loyalty that keeps police officers from reporting errors or misconduct by either their colleagues or superiors. In fact recent reports suggest that the most common type of misconduct that police officers fail to report is use of excessive force.

Finding Legal Help

In cases of personal injury as the result of a police assault you should immediately seek out personal injury lawyers. Attorneys who have experience in dealing with police brutality cases will be able to advise you on whether or not you have a case and what the next best course of action is.

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