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What Exactly Is Excessive Force?

On Behalf of The Law Office of Bruce C. Betzer Sept. 1, 2021

Excessive force is a term that has been thrown around in the media when negative interactions with the police are witnessed. Many people think that they know what excessive force is, but the reality is that the term is flexible and depends on the circumstances.

Excessive force refers to using more force than is necessary to resolve a conflict or problem. For example, an officer who tries to arrest a teen shouldn’t hit the teenager if they’re compliant. If the teen strikes them, they might strike back to get them under control. Taking out a gun and shooting at the teen would be excessive.

Excessive Force Is a Violation of Your Rights

Reasonable force is any reasonable reaction and action taken to get the job done. Though excessive force isn’t precisely defined, it’s usually assumed that excessive force is force greater than what another skilled officer would have done under the same or similar circumstances.

When the police use excessive force, it may put the lives of others involved at risk. Kneeling on someone’s back, pulling out a weapon and firing, tasing someone or even hitting another person may be excessive depending on the circumstances and training that an officer has.

Conflict and Resistance Should only Be Met with Equal Levels of Force

The Supreme Court recognizes that the degree of force or coercion to complete an arrest or stop must be proportionate to the threat at hand and may only escalate in response to that threat if the threat continues to grow. Officers should follow a graduated method to diffuse a situation starting with verbal commands, verbalization, empty-handed control methods, less lethal methods and finally lethal methods when necessary.

What Should You Do if You’re a Victim of Excessive Force?

If you believe that you were a victim of excessive force, you deserve to have your case heard. You may have a case against an officer if they did not stop using force once the need for force ceased or if they did not follow the graduated method to resolve a conflict prior to using less lethal or lethal force.