There are many ways the police can abuse their authority.
It can come from excessive force, assault, or violation of civil rights. Another form of abuse of authority is doing illegal warrantless arrests, searches, or seizures.
According to a 2009 report by The Cato Institute, excessive force complaints were the most common. Reports of sexual misconduct ran a close second and were followed by theft and fraud complaints.
Unfortunately, people who have been victimized by police abuse feel helpless and usually without recourse.
Over the past few years, not a day has gone by that we don’t hear reports of police brutality. What’s even more concerning is the frequency of these events.
It begs the question: is this the new norm?
Can we ever truly feel safe and secure by the police?
Indeed, the act of one police officer is just but one act. However, one can’t help but wonder if all our law enforcement officers are like this, especially when police abuse is all over the news as of late.
Have you or your loved ones been a victim of police abuse?
This article is for you.
We will discuss your rights during your encounter with police officers, including the right to be silent.
This article will also discuss what you need to do in case the police abuse their power.
6 Classic Examples of Abuse of Authority by Police Officers
Abuse of power and authority by law enforcement can often lead to injustices. Sometimes, it involves corruption for their gains to the detriment of other people’s rights.
Here are six critical examples of abuse of power and authority by law enforcement.
1. Use of Excessive Force
Many police officers have been guilty of this transgression or imprisoned for it.
But what constitutes excessive force?
In a nutshell, this is when police officers use force that is more than necessary during an arrest.
The use of force should be proportional to achieving the objective, whether to stop an incident from escalating or apprehending a suspect.
Here are instances where police officers used excessive force in the performance of their duty.
- aggressively pushing the suspect, who is not resisting or fighting back
- hitting or laying hands on the suspect who is not resisting or handcuffed
- using tasers, mace, or similar tools unnecessarily
- resorting to a deadly option when the situation does not call for it
Police officers can only use force when the suspect is resisting, not complying, or trying to get away. Here, the use of force should only be to the extent necessary to subdue the suspect.
If the suspect escaped with a deadly weapon, police officers could also use their mace, tasers, or, in extreme situations, a handgun.
Use of force is also justified when the suspect poses an actual or imminent threat to the life or limb of the police officers or other people.
What is excessive force, however, varies from every situation. But it has become easier to adjudicate claims of excessive force with the advent of police body cams and the public’s use of cell phones.
2. Turning Off Police Body Cams
The cameras are there to mainly document everything that happens during a call or arrest.
These body cameras contribute to a decrease in police brutality or abuse of power. As a result, there is increased accountability of the police force.
Unfortunately, that is only sometimes the case.
Not all departments can afford to buy for the entire force because these cameras are expensive.
But that’s not the only issue. Some body cams have a poor on-off switch, posing a department problem.
What’s worse is when the officers deliberately turn it off. That’s where the real problem happens. This makes it challenging to prove abuse of power or authority on the part of the police officers.
The authorities will have to rely on testimony if there is no footage from the body cam or video evidence from the public. Then it becomes a matter of “you said, they said.”
Malfunctioning body cams are understandable. But when it’s a different story if the police officers purposely turned off their cameras. It often means they are trying to hide something, making it hard to be proven guilty on the spot.
It is not uncommon for police officers to lie about their conduct during arrests. This usually happens where there is no body camera.
Without video evidence, some police officers may lie that the suspects resisted, justifying the need to use force.
4. Illegal Warrantless Search or Seizure
As a rule, law enforcement agents can conduct a search and seizure if they have a warrant issued by the judge.
The exception to this rule is the permissible warrantless instances. Otherwise, it is illegal.
Here are some examples of valid warrantless searches.
- Consented Search: If an authorized person voluntarily consented to the search, the police officers may enter the premises and conduct an investigation.
- Plain View Doctrine: The police officers can seize contraband in their immediate, apparent view. In addition, when the items are in public view, they can seize them without a search warrant.
- Search Incidental to Arrest: A valid arrest must precede the warrantless search. Its purpose is to remove any weapons the perpetrators might use against the police officers.
- Stop and Frisk: The police officers may search the person of the perpetrators for weapons or contraband if there is reasonable suspicion. If there are weapons or contraband, they may be seized.
- Exigent Circumstances: This exception applies to instances where it is not practicable to obtain a warrant. For example, an emergency is developing, and the perpetrators are fleeing. Here, the exigency justifies a warrantless search.
5. Illegal Warrantless Arrests
Law enforcement agents must secure a warrant before arresting the perpetrators.
But this rule admits certain exceptions. Here are some instances where police officers can legally arrest perpetrators without a warrant.
- The police officers have caught the perpetrators in the act of committing a crime.
- A crime has been committed, and the police officers have reasonable grounds to believe that the persons to be arrested did it.
In these instances, the police officers don’t need to witness the commission of the crime. However, they need to have direct knowledge of it.
6. Abuse of Power and Authority
Law enforcement agents cannot use their power and authority for unlawful purposes or personal gain.
They cannot use their position or office to coerce people into doing things that the latter aren’t required to do.
Unfortunately, this abuse happens quite often under the guise of authority.
In many cases, abuse of power and authority go hand in hand during illegal arrests. There are also many reported cases of sexual assault during a physical search of apprehended persons.
In New York City, there were two police officers who arrested a young female on drug possession charges. But instead of bringing her to jail, the officers raped her. Their acts were punishable.
As a result, the female victim filed charges of sexual assault, rape, coercion, and kidnapping against the two law enforcement agents.
Another example of abuse of authority is fabricating evidence. This happens when the officer in charge believes the authorities don’t have enough evidence to prosecute the suspect.
Police Abuse Is a Prevalent and Serious Problem
Here’s the bad news.
Police abuse is widespread, with a long history of defying attempts to eradicate it.
While federal penal statutes are in place, there are areas for improvement regarding enforcing them. Ideally, this national problem must be approached primarily on the local level.
Now, for the good news.
There has been progress regarding thwarting police abuse and punishing offenders. Reforms are in place, contributing to reduced abuse and brutality incidents.
What to Do If You Are a Victim of Police Abuse
Have you or a loved one been a victim of police abuse?
Here are some things you can do.
1. Jot Down What Happened
Whenever practicable, write down the specifics of your encounter with abusive police officers. Do it as much as possible to prevent you from forgetting the minute details, which may be crucial in building a criminal case against them.
Take pictures or videos. Any evidence relevant to the encounter will be beneficial to your case.
2. Gather Witnesses
Before leaving the scene, try to gather the names and contact information of people who may have witnessed the incident. Their testimony can boost your chances of winning the case against the police officers.
3. Seek Medical Attention
If you sustained injuries, go to your doctor.
Even if you think your injuries don’t require medical attention, let the doctor examine your gashes, wounds, or abrasions.
You can use this medical information and the doctor’s testimony to pursue a case against the erring police officers.
4. Get in Touch with an Attorney
Seek legal representation if you want to pursue a claim against the culprits. You can file a case to recover your medical expenses and collect damages for the pain and suffering you endured.
Contact Tripodi Law Firm. We work tirelessly so you can obtain justice and proper compensation for your injuries.
To schedule a free consultation with us, click here.