The investigation evaluates the effectiveness of training for police officers in controlling behaviours that lead to the excessive use of force in the conduct of their work. The evaluation study will respond to the questions on whether training specific to excessive use of force helps decrease precursor behaviours to excessive use of force and on whether the behavioural effects of training are sustainable. The research will employ quasi-experiment with two groups of 30 patrol officers each, from two police departments in similar communities selected through stratified sampling, comprising the experimental and control group. The quasi-experiment involves a pre-test, training, and post-test using a self-report questionnaire. Data will be analysed using descriptive statistics and t-test to determine effectiveness based on the results for the two groups and the results for the experimental group in the post-test administered 2, 4, 6 and 8 weeks from the training.
Keywords: excessive use of force, precursor behaviours, training
The use of excessive force by police officers is a serious issue. Complaints on the use of excessive force and resolutions of these complaints reflect on the professionalism and accountability of law enforcement. The issue touches civil and political rights to bear down at the core of democracy. The issue of use of excessive force intensified with complaints being lodged against police officers in different parts of Australia (Kleim, 2006; Australian Associated Press, 2009) and court decisions finding excessive use of force (Australian Indigenous Law Reporter, 2001; Barry, 2010). These complaints and decided cases support the use of excessive force by police officers as an issue.
The United Nations (2009) produced a paper on the state of the civil and political rights in Australia based on the reports of the state and the observations reported by the Human Rights Committee. One of the conclusions is the need to address the use of excessive force of police officers especially towards minors and individuals belonging to ethnic or indigenous groups. The recommended solutions were to establish an investigation team and to provide training to police officers.
Training is the intervention considered for evaluation in the current study. Training involves the component of learning (Scrivner, 1994). Police officers learn about excessive use of force so they can exercise good judgment in not using excessive force given different situations. The training also involves the component of practice (Scrivner, 1994). Training modules available include physical exercises through role-playing or simulation on police work without using excessive force. Training also include the stress relief and management component (Scrivner, 1994) to help police officers handle stress well and prevent stress as a precursor to excessive use of force in doing police work. Evaluating the effectiveness of training informs on how well training can control the behaviours that lead to the excessive use of force to prevent incidents of police officers exercising excessive force in doing their duties. Benefits of training can be optimized and limitations can be addressed through improvements in the training program or augmenting training with other interventions.
The investigation evaluates the effectiveness of training for police officers in controlling behaviours that lead to the excessive use of force in the conduct of their work. The succeeding sections review the literature to define the topic of investigation, establish the importance of the study, and determine the research questions and hypothesis. A discussion of the methodological framework of the evaluative study also follows. The last section summarises the plan for the investigation.
Excessive Use of Force
The underlying assumption of excessive use of force by police officers is the existence of the power to use force (Alpert & Smith, 1994). Police officers have the authority to exercise force in fulfilling their duties to ensure peace and order in the community (Wolf, 2000) such as by arresting people who commit crimes, dispersing brawls, and controlling other activities inimical to the security of individuals and society. By having the authority to use force in the conduct of police work, excessive use of force is the abuse or malpractice of this authority.
In recognizing the necessity of considering context, excessive use of force is the unwarranted or unnecessary use of force and overstepping of the limits of authority (Alpert & Dunham, 2004). This stresses on the illegitimacy of the excessive use of force. It is broad and open to various situations that can comprise excessive use of force and requires judgment, which fall under the role of the justice system such as tribunals and courts (Bennett & Hess, 2007). An effort to provide a more specific understanding of excessive use of force is the policy of the Miami-Dade Police Department to require the filing of a report in case of the use of certain techniques or if particular situations arise. These techniques and situations are those likely to involve excessive use of force. Police officers make a report on situations that likely or actually resulted to injury or a complaint, when struggle or resistance leads to injury, and when using chemical agents, baton and neck restraint. (Alpert & Dunham, 2004)
The determination of the exercise of unnecessary force or the overstepping of boundary is important in the judgment over the use of excessive force. One means is the use of the proportionality principle, which provides that the action or reaction should be proportional to the stimulus (McPherson, 2006). This applies by considering the number of people involved, the relative state of the parties involved, and the relative situation. Information on these factors, based on the perspectives of the parties, determines the proportionality of the means employed by police officers in relation to the other party and the situation. Another related principle employed in determining excessive use of force is the reasonableness test, which considers whether actions fall under the limits of what constitutes reasonable given the situation (Alpert & Smith, 1994; Alpert & Dunham, 2004; Bennett & Hess, 2007). The question that this test answers is whether a reasonable man would do the same act given a similar situation (Bennett & Hess, 2007).
The use of excessive force by the police finds explanation from three perspectives. One reason is the individual traits of police officers (Friedrich, 1980). Traits such as narcissism, paranoia, and abusive attitude support the tendency towards excessive use of force (Scrivner, 1994). A second reason is the resulting situation when police officers meet civilians (Friedrich, 1980). Factors such as violence, resistance, struggle and threat are issues emerging in situations involving police officers and civilians that determine the use of excessive force (Bennett & Hess, 2007). The last reason is the organization and environment within which police officers work (Friedrich, 1980). Very strict policing styles, poor supervision, and complacence over accountability are work conditions that can breed excessive use of force (Scrivner, 1994). These three explanations for the use of excessive force by police officers provide the causes of this issue as well as the areas of focus in addressing this issue.
A study (Adams et al., 1999) attempted to measure the amount of force exerted by police officers and against them during arrests through the weapons and techniques employed. The study identified four levels of force, from the weakest to strongest, as physical force, physical force with threats, continuum of force, and maximum force. The study found that while police officers use force, these fall under the weaker levels of force. While the use of excessive force comprise the exception in the behaviour of police officers, the commission of this act has dire implications on law enforcement and the role of the police in society (Alpert & Dunham, 2004). This supports the excessive use of force as a significant issue that requires resolution.
A number of solutions to the excessive use of force exist. One is pre-employment screening to select the people fit for law enforcement and to determine the people at risk of excessive use of force (Scrivner, 1994; Anderson et al., 1998). The results of pre-employment screening can lead to interventions for at-risk individuals (Greene, 2007). While this is one solution, law enforcement cannot rely solely on pre-employment screening because risks can develop during the course of career as a police officer so that testing of existing police officers is also important (Scrivner, 1994).
A study on controlling the use of excessive force by police officers showed that screening and testing identified five profiles prone to violence that also comprise the precursors to excessive use of force (Scrivner, 1994). Addressing these precursors goes to the root of the problem. The profiles are 1) personality disorders such as narcissism or egocentrism, 2) work-related experience such as trauma, 3) inexperience and immaturity, 4) inappropriate policing styles such as provocative responses, and 5) personal problems such as death, divorce or financial difficulties (Scrivner, 1994). These precursors can exist before and during employment as police officers. Screening and testing identify these precursors for individual police officers and identify the appropriate interventions.
An intervention receiving increasing attention is training. The forms of training vary. There are training programs that address the problem at a broad level by fostering ethical practice, strengthening community relations, and enhancing law enforcement techniques that do not require force. These forms of training have indirect impact by influencing the precursors to excessive use of force. There are also training programs intended to create change in the attitudes of police officers and the work environment, such as community partnership policing that bring communities and law enforcement closer, to address excessive use of force indirectly. Better community relations build positive conditions to control the precursors of excessive use of force. (Adams et al., 1999) Training program can be multidimensional to control various precursors of excessive use of force. Training applies adult learning principles to build knowledge, awareness and informed decision-making together with opportunities for application through role-playing and simulations. Training also focuses on stress management and competency building to prepare police officers in dealing with various situations more prudently. (Scrivner, 1994)
There is variance in the training implemented by law enforcement authorities particularly the extent of focus targeting the solution to excessive use of force via its precursors (Scrivner, 1994). Moreover, training programs do not often come with comprehensive evaluations to determine impact on addressing the issue of excessive use of force (Adams et al., 1999).
Research Questions and Hypotheses
1) Does training specific to excessive use of force helps decrease the incidence of behaviours that precede such use of excessive force?
2) Can the behavioural effects of such training be sustained over time?
1a) Training specific to excessive use of force helps decrease the incidence of precursor behaviours through awareness and knowledge building.
1b) Training specific to excessive use of force helps decrease the incident of precursor behaviours through practice given different situations.
1c) Training specific to excessive use of force helps decrease the incident of precursor behaviours through stress management and competency building.
2) Behavioural effects of training are sustainable when training focuses on excessive use of force.
Evaluation Site and Subjects of the Study
The evaluation site is police departments whose law enforcement officers hold the authority to use force in the course of their work. Doing the training evaluation in police departments provides first-hand data on the effectiveness of training in controlling precursor behaviours leading to the excessive use of force based on the outcomes for participating police officers.
The subjects of the study are patrol officers purposively selected. Patrol officers are the target participants of the training because these do general police work and likely to encounter different people and face various situations. The police officers to participate in the study should meet certain inclusion criteria to qualify as a subject (Creswell, 2008). In the study, the police officers should 1) have at least a 2-year tenure, 2) currently be in a field assignment or duty (vis-à-vis an administrative post), and 3) express willingness to participate in the study. Meeting the field assignment criterion ensures that the training participants are officers doing work in the field and directly dealing with civilians and situations with civilians. Compliance with the criteria on tenure ensures a common factor for all participants. Willing participation supports the validity of the results.
The study shall adopt a quasi-experimental research design involving two groups and using pre-test and post-test. A quasi-experiment adopts most of the characteristics of an experiment but without having full control over extraneous variables (Creswell, 2008). The use of this research design was because of the difficulty of using randomization and having equivalent or highly similar groups. Extraneous variables such as age, ethnic background, and similar variables may not be subject to full control in the study. Nevertheless, employing quasi-experiment supports the determination of the impact of the treatment to inform on its effectiveness.
The quasi-experiment involves a comparison of two groups of patrol officers. One group shall act as a control group representing the absence of training while the experimental group shall involve subjects who shall undergo training. The groups shall be from the police force of two contiguous and similar communities in terms of population and population characteristics. Doing so ensures having a comparable group to determine effectiveness based on relative outcomes.
Determining the effects of training over time shall be through a pre-post test. A pre-test of the two groups will happen prior to the treatment by using a questionnaire. The two groups will complete a questionnaire asking them about the frequency with which they exhibit behaviours that predispose them to the use of excessive police force. It is expected that there are no significant differences in their scores to establish homogeneity between the two groups. The next phase involves the intervention to be carried out by a police psychologist. The timeframe for monitoring effects through a series of post-tests is only at 8 weeks. The same set of questionnaires shall be administered to the experimental group within 2, 4, 6, and 8 weeks following the training session. This will be carried out to determine the outcomes of the training on behaviour over time and to ascertain their implications to the conduct of follow through training.
The police officers forming part of the groups belong to the same police department. Talk about the training and the evaluation may happen. There may be a tendency to copy or influence responses to affect the validity of the study. Nevertheless, the questionnaire involves self-reporting and requires the respondents to focus on their personal experience. This together with guarantees of confidentiality could encourage self-reporting based on their own opinion and experience.
The lack of full control of extraneous variables and the limited number of participants could affect the reliability of the study. Consideration of the extraneous variables and having more participants could affect the results. Nevertheless, the use of stratified random sampling supported comparison between the groups and random selection of participants representing the patrol officers of the two police departments.
Population and Sample
The Australian police force is the population of the study. However, for pragmatic purposes, only a sample of police officers shall be enlisted in the study. Police officers in two contiguous and similar communities comprise the population sampled using stratified random sampling (Creswell, 2008). The criteria for selection are position as patrol officer on field assignment and at least 2 years employment in the police force of the either of the two communities considered in the study. After identifying the individuals that qualify for each of the police departments in the two communities, 30 patrol officers will be selected at random. The 30 patrol officers from one community will comprise the experimental group and the other 30 patrol officers in the other community will become the control group. Employing this sampling method ensures similarities between the two groups to warrant comparison in support of determining training effectiveness.
Obtaining participants from two similar communities support generalisations for the police force in these two communities as well as for the police force in similar communities. Generalising the results for the entire police force of Australia may not be possible. However, the results can have important implications on training programs focused on excessive use of force in different police departments in the country.
Variables and Data Collection Methods
There are two variables of interest in the study. These are 1) training and 2) precursor behaviours to the use of excessive force. The independent variable, training, shall have two levels: those without training, and those with training. The dependent variable, behaviours leading to excessive use of force, shall be measured through scores on a self-administered questionnaire documenting the frequency of the behaviours indicating risk for excessive use of force (Scrivner, 1994). There are intervening variables that could affect impact of training on precursor behaviours such as age, gender, ethnic background, personality, personal problems, and other similar factors. While these may not completely controlled in the study, the selection and sampling process ensures similar conditions to support comparison.
Two data collection methods are useful to the study. One is secondary data collection, which shall be undertaken through the collation of journals, online references, and books related to the subject matter (Bryman & Bell, 2007). Secondary research supports the conceptual framework of the study, particularly the determination of the research questions and hypotheses as well as the variables. The other is primary research carried out through a self-report questionnaire, which will be administered to the police officers who expressed willingness to participate in the study and who are included in the sample. This shall be pilot tested, and established in terms of validity and reliability prior to deployment. The primary data will provide responses to the research questions and test the hypotheses. Secondary and primary data collection when used singly has limitations in the type and extent of data collected. Combining secondary and primary data will satisfy the data requirements of the study.
Secondary data will be analysed using thematic classification and presented in the introduction, literature review and methodology sections of the study. Secondary data will also be useful in interpreting primary data. The primary data drawn from the self-report questionnaires will be tabulated and summarized per question for initial analysis using descriptive statistics to determine frequency, mean and standard deviation. The method of data analysis for the primary data is t-test to determine the significance of difference between the means of two groups. The first research question and the corresponding hypotheses will be tested by considering the changes in the reported frequency of precursor behaviours before and after the training for the two groups. The existence of significant difference between the groups inform on effectiveness of training in controlling precursor behaviours of excessive use of force. The second research question and its hypothesis will be tested by comparing the frequency of occurrence of precursor behaviours in 2, 4, 6 and 8 weeks after the training. The progression of outcomes will provide a response to the second research question.
The research will comply with the principles of ethical practice adopted by the university. The consent of participants will be obtained by informing them about the study and the importance of their participation. The respondents will be assured of confidentiality of the information and responses given by the respondents. The information or responses could lead to negative reactions such as ostracism or stereotyping of individuals. The identity of the individuals will not be mentioned in the results of the study. Questionnaires will also be kept in a secure vault in the university with limited access.
Project Organisation, Management, Schedule and Budget
The evaluation program will involve the researcher organising the research process and doing the preparations of the research including secondary research, coordination with the police departments and officers, and preparing and pilot testing the questionnaire. The researcher will have help from a police psychologist in conducting the training. The timeline of the activities in the evaluation project per month is shown below.
Primary Data Collection
The estimated budget required to carry out the work is shown below.
Estimated Cost (AUD)
Computer & Printing
Police Psychologist Salary
The seriousness of the issue of excessive use of force warrants the investigation of effective solutions. Training, as a promising solution, will be subject to evaluation in the study through a quasi-experiment. The literature review identified the research questions, hypotheses, and research variables. Consideration of the methodological framework makes the study doable. The expected results have important implications on the role of training in addressing the issue of excessive use of force by police officers.
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Anderson, J., Dyson, L., Burns, J., & Taylor, K. (1998). Preemployment screening and training could reduce excessive force litigation cases. Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology, 13(1), 12-24.
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