THE POLICE SUBCULTURE AND THE USE OF EXCESSIVE FORCE
B.S., Metropolitan State College of Denver, 1996
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts
Adam B. Chadwick
This thesis for the Master of Arts
Adam B. Chadwick
has been approved
Chadwick, Adam Benjamin (M.A., Political Science)
The Police Subculture and the Use of Excessive Force
Thesis Directed by Assistant Professor Tony Robinson
This thesis deals with the police use of excessive force.
It consists mainly of two studies. The first study is
composed of secondary research on the police use of
excessive force in the United States. This study
utilizes scholarly works to answer several questions:
1) What is meant by the term "excessive force?"
2) How prevalent is the police use of excessive force
in the U.S. today?
3) Should this level of excessive force use be
considered a "problem?"
Chapters Two and Three
4) What are the main, identified "causes" of police use
of excessive force?
The second study is more narrow, and is composed of a
different data base. This study deals solely with the
Denver Police Department and the use of excessive force.
It utilizes mainly newspaper reports of instances of
police "excessive force" to answer several questions:
1) From media attention to alleged police excessive
force instances, does it appear that the Denver
Police Department has a "problem with the use of
2) Does an identifiable pattern emerge that explains
what "causes" Denver police officers to use
3) When the findings of this second study are viewed in
light of the first, do the results appear to be
This abstract accurately represents the content of the
candidate's thesis. I recommend its publication.
The Police Subculture.......................18
2. THE POLICE USE OF EXCESSIVE FORCE.............22
The Problem of Excessive Force..............22
The Prevalence of Excessive Force...........28
3. THE CAUSAL FACTORS OF POLICE EXCESSIVE
The Race Theory...........................38
The Bad Apple Theory......................50
The Police Subculture Theory..............58
The "Us v. Them" Mentality.............59
4. THE USE OF EXCESSIVE FORCE AND THE
DENVER POLICE DEPARTMENT......................99
Is Excessive Force a Problem
Is the Police Subculture to Blame?.......105
Since the ubiquitous, televised Rodney King case, the
subject of police use of excessive force has seemed to
draw more attention in both the media and scholarly
publications. Examples have been identified from the
East Coast to the West Coast, and everywhere in between.
However, conflicting research has indicated that the
causes of this shocking behavior appear to be as varied
as the officers involved, and as difficult to understand
as human nature itself. When the initial shock of
allegations of brutality dissipate and the actual causes
of excessive force are addressed, the many explanations
often seem vague, biased, and overly simplified. This
thesis will identify three of the main theoretical
explanations that are given for the phenomenon and will
single one out to be tested: the subculture of the police
To test the causal theory of the police subculture, two
separate studies will be performed. The first study
utilizes scholarly publications by experts who have
researched the police use of excessive force. Through
this medium, it will be determined whether or not the
police subculture theory appears to have scholarly merit
and conclusive evidence. The second study is more
focused, endeavoring to test the police-subculture theory
specifically within the Denver Police Department.
Through media reports of excessive force allegations
against Denver police officers, this second study
ultimately attempts to determine whether the Denver
Police Department demonstrates the detrimental aspects of
the police subculture.
Chapter One will define several key terms, such as
"excessive force" and the "police subculture." Chapter
Two will identify why the police use of excessive force
is problematic and how prevalent it is. Chapter Three
will entail a discussion of several of the main theories
of the causal factors of police excessive force, with
emphasis on the "race" theory, the "bad apple" theory,
and the "police subculture" theory. Chapter Four will be
the secondary case study of the Denver Police Department.
In Conclusion, Chapter Five will include a brief
discussion of the findings of this thesis and explore a
Before delving into the problem of police use of
excessive force, we need to identify and define two
terms: "excessive force," and the "police subculture."
Clear understanding of these terms is important, for they
will be used often throughout this thesis.
Wrongful acts performed by police officers are commonly
labeled in different ways. Some examples of these labels
are "corruption," "deviance," "misconduct," "malfeas-
ance," "brutality," "excessive use of force," and
"excessive force." The first four are all broad terms
that describe the entire spectrum of wrongful acts that
could be committed by officers. Although excessive force
falls under all four of these broad definitions, it is
just one of the wrongful acts these terms describe.
Most confusion involving excessive-force terminology lies
within the definitions of the last three terms. The term
"police brutality" immediately brings to mind the
televised Rodney King incident and other cases of gross
abuse of police force. This specificity, however, is not
consistent with the term's most common scholarly usage or
definition, which includes more acts than excessive
physical force. Carl B. Klockars has defined "police
brutality" as behavior that treats citizens "with less
than the full rights and dignity owed to citizens in a
democratic society."1 Clearly, this definition is not
limited to coercive force.
Another very commonly used example of brutality is the
set given by A. J. Reiss:
1) profane and abusive language;
2) commands to move or get home;
3) field stops and searches;
5) prodding with a nightstick or approaching with a
6) the actual use of physical force.2
Brutality has also been defined as not only the use of
excessive force, but "name-calling, sarcasm, ridicule,
and disrespect."3 Whereas these behaviors are considered
to be "brutal" by many, defining such actions as "police
brutality" is often misleading. For example, some of
these activities, such as numbers two through six above,
are types of behavior often reasonably required of police
officers. To threaten a non-compliant suspect with the
use of force or to actually use legitimate and necessary
coercive force is within the legal (and often necessary)
parameters of police work. Because the term "brutality"
may be taken to include these legitimate police actions
along with unnecessary and unreasonable police actions,
it is too broad for use in this thesis.
"Excessive use of force" is another term that deserves
distinction from excessive force. Simply put, excessive
use of force is using force too often, while "excessive
force" is using too much force in any given case.
Excessive use of force is indicated by instances of force
that exceed a specified threshold in comparison to
thresholds in other departments or officers. Because it
is more readily observed than solely examples of
excessive force, it is often a characteristic looked for
by those attempting to research cases of actual excessive
force. The main reason it attracts researchers'
attention is that while departments or officers who often
use force are not always guilty of using excessive force,
the fact that they have more instances of force used
increases the probability that some of their force is
excessive or unnecessary. Kenneth Adams has compared
police excessive use of force to a hospital mortality
rate, stating that these rates "may be due to a variety
of factors, such as a large caseload of high-risk
patients, so that questions of substandard care or of
malpractice are not always at issue."4 In other words,
although some officers or departments may be faced by
more situations where force must be used, others use
force more frequently than their situations require.
While the term "excessive use of force" may be a "red
flag" for actual cases of excessive force, the two should
not be confused.
Lastly, and most importantly, is the definition of
"excessive force." It has been said that no one really
knows what "excessive force" is.5 While this statement
is arguable, definitions of excessive force have varied
historically, and currently depend upon subjective
terminology and artifices created via case law. For
example, definitions of excessive force may be separated
from legitimate force by terms such as "necessary,"
"reasonable," and "of last resort."5 Or "excessive
force" has been defined, as Judge Stanley Weisburg (in
the Rodney King case) stated: "every Public officer who
under color of authority, without necessity, assaults or
beats any person is guilty of a violation of [law]."7
Likewise, Kidd v. O'Neil states:
[T]he use of any significant force...not reasonably
necessary to effect an arrestas where the suspect
neither resists nor flees or where the force is
used after a suspect's resistance has been overcome
or his flight thwartedwould be constitutionally
Because definitions of this sort rely on ambiguous terms
like "necessary," "reasonable," and "necessity," police
administrators, judges, and juries must attempt to define
these terms before excessive force may be identified.
To avoid this semantical conundrum, federal courts have
created standards, or artifices, to define excessive
force. One of the first of these was the standard
erected in Johnson v. Glick (1973). Klockars states
this standard was based on substantive due process and
hinged on the presence of several factors:
1) the need for the application of force;
2) the relationship between the need and the amount
of force used;
3) the extent of injury inflicted; and
4) whether the force was applied in a good-faith
effort to maintain or restore discipline or
maliciously and sadistically for the very purpose
of causing harm.9
Ultimately, these factors were reduced to a standard
known as the "shocks the conscience" standard. "For
force to be excessive.under Glick it not only has to
produce severe or substantial bodily injury but also must
be the product of malicious or sadistic action by
This standard defined excessive force until 1989, when
the Graham v. Connor decision was made. The Graham case
overturned Glick, and created a new standard based on
Fourth Amendment "reasonableness."11 According to
Klockars, this standard is somewhat lower than the
previous Glick standard, allowing plaintiffs to more
easily challenge police officers' use of force. The main
reason the Graham standard allows for these challenges is
that instead of needing to prove malicious or sadistic
intent to cause harm, the officer's use of force would be
judged by the viewpoint of a "reasonable officer." In
other words, in reviewing the officer's actions, the
Court would now decide whether or not a "reasonable
officer" would have behaved differently if placed in the
This definition is still problematic in that it leaves a
large gap between legally identifiable excessive force
and many of the less injurious behaviors identified
earlier. It continues to require the presence of more
than "brutal" treatment, namely serious physical injury.
Rolando V. Del Carmen has stated that under the Graham
standard, "mere words, threats, a push, a shove,
temporary inconvenience, or even a single punch to the
face does not necessarily constitute a civil rights
A more inclusive definition of excessive force has been
proposed by a group of experts who believe that the
current legal standard is far too narrow.13 Geller and
Toch state that the problem of excessive force can be
defined as an aggregate of sub-problems, among which they
1) any force when none is needed;
2) more force than is needed;
3) any force or a level of force continuing after
the necessity for it has ended;
4) knowingly wrongful uses of force;
5) well-intentioned mistakes that result in
undesired uses of force;
6) departmental constraints that put officers in the
position of using more forceand/or using it more
oftenthan otherwise would occur.14
Although this definition of excessive force may appear
overly broad on the surface, Geller and Toch argue that
in order for one fully to understand the actual causes of
excessive force, these sub-problems must be identified as
part of the problem. For example, if a police high-speed
chase ends in the beating death of a motorist, a full
explanation of the causes for the incident may include
the department's regular practice of silently condoning
the roughing up of civilians found to be in "contempt of
cop." Part of the problem may be that not defining these
less serious offenses as instances of excessive force
precipitates more egregious offenses. For this reason,
the excessive force referred to in this thesis will
include the Geller and Toch definition above rather than
solely the Glick and Graham definitions. It will,
however, be limited to coercive force and will not
include other wrongful treatment such as humiliation and
mere verbal force.
The Police Subculture
The second term to be defined is that of the police
"subculture." Gareth Morgan defines an organizational
culture as "a process of reality construction that allows
people to see and understand particular events, actions,
objects, utterances, or situations in distinctive ways."15
"Police occupational culture," "organizational culture,"
"brotherhood," and "subculture" are all terms describing
this phenomenon among police officers.
Since the idea of a police culture became popular, police
researchers and authors have seemed to develop a schism
about the term's definition. Varying in complexity, some
authors identify multiple police subcultures, such as
that of black police officers, women police officers,
Hispanic officers, etc.. Other authors have bifurcated
the police subculture into two main culturesan
"administrative culture" and a "patrol subculture."16
In studying the police use of excessive force, however,
the culture most often referred to is that of the "patrol
subculture." The reason that research focuses on the
patrol subculture is simply that in a study of excessive
force, the vast majority of incidents involve patrol
officers rather than administrative officers.
Furthermore, the solidarity, socialization pressures,
"code of silence," and "us v. them" mentality seems to be
the strongest within the patrol subculture. For these
reasons, the term "police subculture" will refer mainly
to the patrol subculture, but will also acknowledge the
pressures exerted by the administrative culture as well.
NOTES FROM CHAPTER ONE
1. Geller, William A., and Hans Toch Police Violence: understanding and controlling the police use of
force (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996), p. 7.
2. A J. Reiss, Jr., "Police-Brutality: Answers to Key Questions," in Police Deviance, Third edition, ed.
Thomas Barker and David L. Carter (Cincinnati: Anderson Publishing Co., 1994), p 126.
3. The Presidents Commission(1967), in Barker and Carter (1994), p 270.
4. Adams, Kenneth, "Measuring the Prevalence of Police Abuse of Force," in Geller and Toch (1996), p.
5. Bittner, Egon, The Functions of the Police in Modern Society(1975); cited along with Klockars, Carl
B., in Police Violence^ 1996).
6. Skolnick, Jerome H., and James J. Fyfe, Above the Law: police and the use of excessive force (New
York: The Free Press, 1993).
7. Cited by Hubert G. Locke, "The Color of Law and the Issue of Color: Race and the Abuse of Police
Power," in Police Violence, ed. William A. Geller and Hans Toch, p. 129.
8. Kidd v. O'Neil, 774 F.2d 1252,1256-57 (4th Cir. 1985). Cited by John N. Ferdico (1993), Criminal
Procedure for the Criminal Justice Professional, Fifth edition (St. Paul: West Publishing Co., 1993), p.
9. Johnson v. Glick, 481 F.2d 1028(2nd. Cir.), cert, denied, 414 U.S. 1033(1973), cited by Carl B.
Klockars in Geller and Toch (1996), p. 5.
10. Geller and Toch (1996), p. 5.
11. Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989), ibid., p. 6.
12. Del Carmen, Rolando V.(1991). Civil Liabilities in American Policing, cited by Carl B. Klockars,
Ibid., p. 6.
13. Namely Carl B. Klockars, Mary M. Cheh, William A. Geller, and Hans Toch.
14. Geller and Toch (1996), p. 292-93.
15. Morgan, Gareth(1987). Images of Organization, p. 111, cited by Kelling and Kliesmet in Geller and
Toch (1996), p.203.
16. See Worden, Robert E., "The Causes of Police Brutality: Theory and Evidence on Police Use of Force," in
Geller and Toch (1996), p. 23-51; and Susan Sadd and Randolph Grinc in The Challenge of Community
Policing: testing the promises, ed. Dennis P. Rosenbaum (Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 1994).
THE POLICE USE OF EXCESSIVE FORCE
The Problem of Excessive Force
Item: On March 22, 1990, a criminal suspect named Adolf
Archie was apprehended after shooting Earl Hauck, a New
Orleans police officer. As Archie was driven to the
hospital, the news spread that he had seriously injured a
police officer. Arriving at the hospital, the squad car
he was riding in was met by a group of angry officers who
refused to allow any medical personnel to treat him until
they had heard the condition of officer Hauck. When it
was learned that Hauck was dead, the mob of officers
demanded that Archie be killed. He was driven from the
hospital to the district police station, where he was
attacked by a mob of screaming officers. When Archie was
finally taken back to the hospital, he had two skull
fractures, his teeth had been kicked in, his larynx was
crushed, his testicles were bleeding, and most of the
bones in his face were broken. Within hours he was
Item: Also in March 1990, two West Palm Beach police
officers beat Robert R. Jewett so savagely that nine of
his ribs were broken, his Adam's apple was crushed, and
he was beaten between the legs with night sticks "with
such fury as to cause what one veteran medical examiner
called 'the most severe testicular damage I'd ever
Item: On December 17, 1979, Metro-Dade police officers
were led on a high speed chase by Arthur McDuffie, a
thirty-three year old insurance salesman. When he was
finally apprehended, McDuffie was fatally beaten with
flashlights by the officers. In an attempt to cover-up
their actions, the officers drove a police car over
McDuffie's motorcycle and helmet to make it appear he was
run over by a car.3
How problematic is police use of excessive force in the
United States? To many, the discovery of shocking cases
like these three indicates a serious problem. The book
Police Brutality, part of a series called "Current
Controversies," contains a collection of "professional"
responses to controversial police-related questions. The
first section in Chapter One of the book is the question:
"Is Police Brutality a National Crisis?" Not
surprisingly, the responses were sharply divided. The
first half of the responses cited incident after incident
of police abuse as indicia of a national crisis, and the
second half stated that overall, the number of excessive
force cases is relatively few. While the term "national
crisis" is an arguably poor choice to describe the United
States excessive-force problem, the question does deserve
attention, and begs two other specific questions: 1) Has
the problem of police excessive force become greater or
diminished in recent years?; and 2) How prevalent is
police excessive force?
Research on the first question indicates that although
the media have made excessive-force cases more visible
recently, the reality is that these cases are actually
less prevalent now than in the past. A historical
analysis reveals that the high numbers of excessive-force
cases during the 1960's were surpassed only by the gross
abuses of force in the 1920's and 1930's. The National
Committee of Law Observance and Enforcement (the
Wickersham Commission, 1930-1931) entitled its study Our
Lawless Police, stating that police practices of the era
were "so appalling and sadistic as to pose no
intellectual issue for civilized people."4 In a further
description of these abuses:
It is one thing to talk quietly to a suspect
without his counsel and artfully, perhaps by
deceit, persuade him to incriminate himself; it is
quite another to hang a suspect out of a window by
his heels from a great height, or to beat a
confession out of him by putting a telephone book
on his head and pounding the book so it does not
leave any marks.5
Demonstrations and union strikes during this period were
dealt with harshly and with little restraint. During one
peaceful 1930's demonstration outside a Republic Steel
factory, Chicago police killed ten people and wounded
almost a hundred more.6 The sheer amount of police
excessive force during this era led Robert Fogelson, a
prominent police historian, to state: "the evidence seems
to indicate that the big-city police were probably less
repressive in the mid-1960's than in the late 1920's and
early 1930's."7 This statement is especially telling
when the "police riots" of the 1960's are studied.
In the mid-sixties, Los Angeles Police Chief William H.
Parker once stated: "There is no brutality!"8 Contrary
to this statement, demonstrators and anti-war protestors
during this era were often attacked by hundreds of police
officers who would rush through the crowd beating anyone
who got in their way. One example of these "police
riots" occurred on June 23, 1967 in Parker's own city,
Los Angeles, California. According to Rodney Stark, the
incident took place in front of a hotel where President
Johnson was attending a fund-raising dinner. When a
crowd of about 15,000 people did not respond to police
orders to disperse, more than 1,300 officers attacked
those on the perimeter (which included women, children,
and elderly people). The officers then waded through the
terrified crowd, smashing vehicles, clubbing everyone
within reach, and wildly beating even uninvolved
Two years later in Berkeley, California, the first day of
the "Peoples Park" demonstration was broken up by police
officers wounding, and in some cases killing,
demonstrators. Appropriately called "Bloody Thursday,"
the incident was capped with officers shooting running
demonstrators with buckshot-loaded shotguns.10 And these
were only a few of the more tragic incidents. Black
Panthers, anti-war protesters, and other demonstrators
were routinely beaten and sometimes killed by police
officers. State and federal commissions, like the
Wickersham Commission, have historically found
problematic the police use of excessive force; the
President's Commission on Civil Rights (1947), the U.S.
Civil Rights Commission (1961), the federal 1967 Crime
Commission, the Kerner Commission (1968), and the
Christopher Commission (1991) all found excessive force
to be a problem.11
Have many of these gross violations "gone the way of the
gas light," as Charles P. McDowell states?12 With more
accountability placed on police officers, more rights
given to citizens, and more legal recourse when a
violation is committed, many argue that excessive force
is now very infrequent. This view prompts the second
question posed earlier: How prevalent is excessive force
in the United States today?
The Prevalence of Excessive Force
Following the Rodney King incident, the NAACP performed a
study to determine the extent of excessive force
nationwide. In its findings, the NAACP states that
"sometimes it seems that criminal suspects who are not
handcuffed too tightly, not smacked with a nightstick,
and not shoved into a police wagon are the exception."13
They state that police use of excessive force, ranging
from beatings, to shootings, to use of police dogs, is
"the most serious problem facing the minority commun-
ity."14 Although the NAACP acknowledges that police use
of excessive force has decreased from past levels, it
states that excessive force still remains a grave problem
throughout the country.
Conversely, Robert E. Worden states that excessive force
is, in itself, a rarity. Comparing police excessive
force to aircraft accidents, Worden states that excessive
force is infrequent "relative to the large volume of
interactions between police and citizens."15 In other
words, when police contact with the community is studied,
their use of force is a small percentage of that
interaction, and the use of excessive force is but a
fraction of that overall use of force.
These two viewpoints represent two differing beliefs
concerning the prevalence of police excessive force.
Although both identify the police use of excessive force
a problematic, their interpretations of its prevalence
are not consistent. Using the same data, either group
could make an argument concerning how frequently
excessive force occurs. For example, if a study shows
that a police department used excessive force 172 times
in one year, both groups would argue that it is a
problem. However, the first group would argue that this
high number indicates prevalent use of excessive force,
while the second group would argue that the number is
comprised of only four percent of the department's "use
of force" cases, indicating it is a relatively rare
occurrence. While both of these arguments are valid,
they serve to demonstrate three important facts:
1) according to either viewpoint, any police use of
excessive force is too much, 2) police use of excessive
force is less prevalent today than it has been in the
past, and 3) determining the prevalence (or significance)
of police excessive force depends upon personal
interpretations of the data.
In determining the prevalence of police excessive force,
two studies are often cited: the Public Services Study
(PSS) in 1977, and the Black and Reiss study of 1966.
Although more than a dozen significant studies have been
done on the prevalence of police use of force, these two
are different in that they draw broad excessive-force
correlations. The PSS data were collected from 24 police
departments in three main metropolitan areas (Rochester,
N.Y., St. Louis, Mo., and Tampa-St. Petersburg, Fla.).
The larger of these two studies, the PSS information
included 5,688 police-citizen encounters and concluded
that between 0.5 percent and 1.3 percent of the
encounters involved the use of excessive force.16 The
Black and Reiss study focused on three major police
departments (Boston, Chicago, and Washington D.C.) and
totaled 1,565 encounters. Analysis of these data by
Robert Friedrich revealed that excessive force was used
in 1.8 percent of the encounters.17 Similarly, the
Christopher Commission found that between January 1986
and December 1990, two percent of 8,274 encounters
involved excessive force.18
While each of these studies is arguably inaccurate in
measuring the prevalence of excessive force (because of
incidents not reported), they do indicate that, when
compared to the total number of police-citizen
encounters, the amount of excessive force appears to be
minimal. This argument has also been buttressed by the
more common studies on police use of force, both proper
and improper, which indicate that police officers use
force on a relatively infrequent basis. One study on the
use of force found that the use of any amount of force in
six percent of all encounters seems to be high, with the
Christopher Commission reporting one percent in L.A., and
other studies quoting between four and five percent.19
However, even if police excessive force is actually as
infrequent as these studies show it to be, it should not
be considered a minimal problem for two reasons. First,
the traditional definition of excessive force is only
that which involves serious physical injury or the
"shocks the conscience" type of excessive force, so even
a small number of cases should raise public alarm.
Second, just as relatively infrequent airplane crashes
should be unacceptable, the violating nature of police
excessive force should make its occurrence unacceptable
as well. For these two reasons, many of those studying
excessive force have analyzed the low percentage of
excessive force cases and still claimed that there is a
serious problem with police excessive force in the United
But why has the police use of excessive force been a
problem in the past and why does it continue to be a
problem? This question cannot be answered accurately
without understanding what causes police officers to use
excessive force. The next chapter will identify three of
the main schools of thought surrounding the causal
factors of police excessive force.
NOTES FROM CHAPTER TWO
1. See Skolnick and Fyfe (1993), p. 33-35; and Bob Herbert, "Corrupt cops erode confidence in the rule
of law," in The New York Times News Service, September 24,1995,107a.
2. Harrison, Eric, "Police Brutality in the U.S.: An Overview," in Police Brutality, ed. William Dudley,
part of "Current Controversies" series (San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1991), p. 18.
3. Skolnick and Fyfe(1993),p. 181.
4. Skolnick, Jerome H., "Justice Without Trial," in Police Innovation and Control of the Police:
problems of law, order, and community, ed. David Weidburd and Craig Uchida (New York: Springer-
Verlag, 1993), p. 15.
5. Ibid., p. 15.
6. Skolnick and Fyfe (1993), p.18.
7. Fogelson, Robert M., Big City Police (1977), p. 247, cited by Skolnick and Fyfe(1993), p. 18-19.
8. Parker, William H., quoted in Life, Aug. 27,1965, cited by Rodney Stark in Police Riots (Belmont:
Wadsworth Publishing Co., 1972), p. 71.
9. Stark, Rodney(1972), Police Riots.
11. All but Christopher Commission were cited by Rodney Stark (1972).
12. McDowell, Charles P.(1985), Criminal Justice: A Community Relations Approach (Cincinnati,
Anderson Publishing Co., 1984), p. 174.
13. The NAACP, Beyond the Rodney King Story: an investigation of police misconduct in minority
communities (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1995), p. 30.
14. Ibid., p. 29-30.
15. Worden, Robert, E., "The Causes of Police Brutality: Theory and Evidence on Police Use of
Excessive Force," in Geller and Toch (1996), p. 46.
16. Findings cited by Robert E. Worden, Ibid.
18. Cited by Kenneth Adams in Geller and Toch (1996).
19. Study done by Kenneth Adams, Ibid., p. 61.
THE CAUSAL FACTORS OF POLICE
Research on police excessive force reveals a broad range
of individual causal theories. Among these separate
theories are: a lax criminal-justice system, economic
inequality, officers' need for self defense, "contempt of
cop," poor training, officers' attitudes, alcohol,
marital, and drug problems, officer selection, job-
related stress, racism, machismo, the need for control,
and many others. Although each of these individual
theories can be linked to its own group of excessive-
force cases, each are too narrow to explain other cases
of excessive force. For example, officer machismo may
explain certain cases of excessive force just as job-
related stress has been linked to other instances of
abuse. Although both are valid theories, neither
individual theory accounts for the other. R. J.
Friedrich identifies this narrowness as the main problem
with many of the causal hypotheses of police abuse of
force. He states:
...most studies have suffered from a narrow
explanatory focus. They zero in on one factor or
set of factors as crucial to explaining the use of
force without recognizing that other factors may be
To avoid this parochial focus, several authors have
presented a tripartite explanation of police excessive
force rather than presenting individual causes. Robert
E. Worden identifies the "sociological," "psychological,"
and "organizational" factors as the main causes of police
excessive force.2 Similarly, Friedrich identifies the
"individual," the "situational," and the "organizational"
factors as being the three main causes.3 This thesis
will do the same, using three historical explanations of
the causes of police excessive force: the "race" theory,
the "bad apple" theory, and the "police subculture"
These three theories were chosen simply because they
appear to be the most prominent in the literature.
Of these three, this study identifies the last as being
the most powerful. This finding, which will be indicated
in the discussions of all three theories, is due to the
fact that the "subculture" theory appears to explain the
veracity of many of the other theories (especially the
"race" and "bad apple" theories). The main reason the
"subculture" theory is so powerful is that it appears to
provide a general context that nurtures the pathologies
of the other causes. In other words, while these three
theories are often presented by authors as being mutually
exclusive, this study finds that the subculture theory
allows for the existence of the others.
The Race Theory
The theory that many cases of police excessive force are
racially motivated has a great deal of historical
support. During the Civil Rights movement, the Ku Klux
Klan was openly influential in many police departments in
the South, and was more surreptitiously effective in
other Departments nationally.4 In 1968, the Kerner
Commission stated: "...the fact is that many police do
reflect and express white supremacist attitudes.
Although many changes have been made over the past thirty
years (such as the increasing political power of
minorities, and the hiring of more minority officers),
the NAACP and other authors still argue that racial
prejudice is the main factor affecting the police use of
excessive force.6 Laura Murphy, director of the American
Civil Liberties Union, recently stated, "Police are
targeting African-Americans because they are easier to
see, easier to catch."7 Along with the Rodney King case,
the involvement of black victims in several recent high-
profile police excessive force cases have appeared to
lend merit to this argument:
-In 1992 in Detroit, two white officers beat Malice
Green with police flashlights so viciously that
part of his scalp was torn off.8
-In 1995 in Pittsburgh, Jonny Gammage was pinned to
the highway by white officers until he died from
-In 1996 in St. Petersburg, Florida, the
questionable shooting death of Tyron Lewis by a
white officer set off an intense race riot and led
one group to call for the "execution" of St.
Petersburg's mayor and police chief.10
-In 1997 in New York, Abner Louima was hospitalized
with internal injuries to his bladder and
intestines after white officers sodomized him with
a wooden toilet plunger and beat him with a police
Other than anecdotal evidence, the race theory is
ostensibly buttressed by statistics on police use of
deadly force.1 These statistics show that certain
minorities are more likely to have police deadly force
used against them than are whites.12 Dealing with police
shootings, the vast majority of these statistics indicate
that Blacks, in particular, are heavily over-represented.
For example, one study indicated that nation-wide between
1976 and 1987, 3,000 whites and 1,800 blacks were killed
by police officers.13 When this statistic is distributed
proportionately, blacks are three times more likely to be
killed by police than are whites.14 Citing 13 different
studies on this issue, Barker and Carter state: "all
studies are in agreement that blacks are the victims of
police deadly force in numbers disproportionate to their
representation in the general population."15
Deadly-force statistics are used because statistics on excessive force are not easily studied. The reason
for this difficulty is that the majority of the data is either: l)in the allegations of victims, 2) in the reports
of the officers involved, or 3) not reported at all. From these sources, it is nearly impossible to determine
true cases of excessive force, much less what motivated that use of force. Police use of deadly force, on
the other hand, is an act that is always recorded.
The fact that correlations can be drawn between race and
police deadly force is rarely opposed. Rather, the
disagreement begins when the cause of that relationship
is in question. Several authors extrapolate from the
data to indicate that rampant racism and prejudice still
exist within many police departments in the United
States.16 In some police departments this is
demonstrable: in a poll within the Los Angeles Police
Department, the Christopher Commission found that nearly
30 percent of the officers in that department agreed that
"an officer's prejudice towards the suspect's race may
lead to the use of excessive force."17 Auditing LAPD
transmissions across the Department's Mobile Digital
Terminals (MDT's) also revealed numerous derogatory
racial remarks concerning the use of excessive force on
Other authors argue that because of the lack of research
support and scholarly evidence of police racism, the
disproportionate race statistics are due to the presence
of numerous compounding variables which convolute the
police prejudice/race relationship.19 Under the
"sociological" theory cited earlier, Robert E. Worden has
created a comprehensive explanation of these compounding
variables existing in police-citizen encounters.20 Worden
cites the factors commonly occurring with police use of
force as being not only the race, social class, age,
gender, sobriety, demeanor, and type of offense committed
by the offender, but also the number of officers on the
scene, the visibility of the encounter, and the type of
neighborhood in which the encounter occurs.21 The
combination of all of these variables indicates that
there are factors, besides a suspect's being a minority,
that have a strong relationship to the police use of
force. Worden states:
...force is more likely in incidents that involve
violent crimes and against suspects who are male,
black, drunk, antagonistic, or physically resis-
tant. Physical resistance has by far the greatest
effect on the use of force.22
Citing a significant study in the New York police
department, Worden states that because of these
compounding variables inherent to all police-citizen
encounters, "neither gender nor race bore the expected
[causal] relationship to the use of force."23 Other
factors, such as automobile pursuits, drunkenness, and
the presence of a weapon were more closely related to
police use of force than that of race.24 And a study by
Gellar and Karales seems to support this argument,
finding that, given the exposure to "forcible felony
arrests," whites were equally likely to be shot as
This line of argument is that the disproportionate race
statistics are due to the dynamics of the compounding
variables and the historical abuse of minorities by
police officers. In other words, because of the
historically rocky relationship between blacks and police
officers, these authors argue that blacks are more apt to
expect abusive treatment and to be physically resistant,
hostile, or to flee police officers.26 And these actions
in turn result in the triggering of stimuli that cause
police officers to use excessive force. In short, this
explanation argues that it is not the fact that the
suspect is black that causes the officers to use
excessive force, but the presence of more of the
compounding variables that are related to the use of
In any case, the compounding variables do appear to
complicate the relationship of police use of deadly force
on minority victims and make conclusive statements about
officer prejudice difficult to substantiate. Even the
Christopher Commission, in dealing with the Los Angeles
Police Department, identified the importance of one of
these compounding variables, stating that the
"concentration of...crime in Los Angeles minority
communities" was a significant factor affecting police
Another example of the confusion over these compounding
variables is that of arrest rates and "violent criminal
activities." At least eight studies on arrest rates have
identified a greater participation of minorities in
"violent criminal activities" as a theory to explain the
high number of shooting deaths among minorities.28
However, arrest rates have also been identified as
factors of discriminatory law enforcement, leaving their
use as mitigating factors of the disproportionate
In other words, if
statistics suspect as well.29
minorities are targeted more often because of
departmental prejudice, their arrests will also be unduly
higher, making their arrest rates a questionable
indicator of the frequency in which they engage in
crimes. It has also been argued that many of these
studies are biased and performed for purposes of
"scientific racism"the Dallas Police Department itself
performed one of the eight studies cited.30
However, without splitting hairs over opposing studies to
determine which argument is correct, three statements of
fact can be made: 1) minorities are more often the
victims of police deadly force, 2) the relationship
between police use of excessive force and the race of its
victims is complicated, and 3) the compounding variables
indicate that factors other than officer prejudice
contribute to the disproportionate race statistics.
In a work titled "The Color of Law and the Issue of
Color," Hubert G. Locke states that excessive-force
researchers cannot state with empirical reliability
"whether there are racial reasons for police behavior
because other possible explanations cannot be ruled
out."31 Even the NAACP concedes that:
...there is little hard data to support the
extensive anecdotal evidence that the worst
incidents of police abuse, and the majority of the
cases of police abuse, are committed by white
officers on nonwhite citizens.32
With the dynamic relationship of the compounding factors
and the lack of supporting research taken into
consideration, the race theory alone does not appear
cohesive enough to offer a valid explanation for police
excessive force nation-wide. Even the broader
"sociological" theory is lacking in that it is just a
compilation of factors present in many police excessive
force cases and does not attempt to address the
underlying causes of these individual factors. For
example, it is a well-known fact that high-speed chases
often end in the use of police excessive force.33 Both
Worden's "sociological" theory and Friedrich's
"situational" theory end with the identification of that
variable. But what causes officers to react so
consistently after a high-speed chase? Similarly, when
race is one of the variables in an excessive force
incident, what causes officers to act with prejudice?
In either case, one possible answer is that the rest of
the police department appears to condone excessive force
when it is used in certain circumstances; the police
organizational subculture allows it. However, the race
theory does not take circumstances other than the
suspect's race into consideration (such as the other
compounding variables). Because of this fact, the race
theory can be better explained as one of the pressures of
the police subculture, a theory that does include the
other variables. Furthermore, as a causal hypothesis,
the race theory begs two questions; 1) if police
prejudice against minorities causes excessive force, are
most officers who use excessive force racially
prejudiced?; and 2) are most cases of excessive force
committed against minorities?
The assumption that most police officers who use
excessive force are racially prejudiced can be compared
to the assumption that most civilians who commit crimes
are minorities. Neither statement is supported by clear
evidence. The complexity of police excessive force is
comparable to civilian criminal activity in that an
inclusive blanket statement concerning race cannot be
made. While it is true that police officers are
predominantly white, the evidence does not indicate that
the majority of police officers who commit crimes of
excessive force are racially motivated to do so. If this
statement were not true, the volume of cases of police
excessive force used against white citizens and those of
minority officers on minority citizens would be far
The main argument of this thesis is that, when examined
on the national level, the race theory is inadequate
because it does not account for the numerous compounding
variables. Even the broader sociological theories which
attempt to explain excessive force through multivariate
analysis of individual interactions lack adequate
explanation of the causes of excessive force. These
sociological theories merely identify variables that seem
to correlate with police excessive force (like high-speed
chases, physical resistance, and the suspect's race).
The actual underlying causes of the correlations are not
Rather, some findings of these sociological studies
indicate that racial prejudice within a police department
is contingent upon organizational factors (like the
effects of the police subculture), or individual factors
(like those of the bad-apple theory).34 In other words,
if police racism does cause excessive force, it does so
because of either the department's police subculture or
the presence of a few racist officers. If this
supposition is accurate, the valid factors of the race
theory can be better explained by the other two theories.
The organizational factor, in particular, is often so
powerful that it overrides issues of race, pressuring
minority officers to use excessive force against minority
suspects.35 This use of excessive force is due not to a
new-found racism on the part of the minority officers,
but rather to the suspect's violation of the unwritten
rules of the police subculture. And as the causal theory
of the police subculture will demonstrate, these
unwritten rules can be a much more powerful force than
that of race.
The Bad Apple Theory
The bad-apple theory argues that misconduct within the
police department is caused by only a handful of rogue
officers. This theory has often been used to explain
incidents of police excessive force, as well as other
forms of police corruption that are especially shocking
to the community. Studies, like that of the Christopher
Commission, have shown that some officers display a
higher proclivity to use excessive force than other
officers. In analyzing complaints and cases against Los
Angeles police officers, the Christopher Commission found
that from 1986 to 1990, 1,800 officers had received
excessive-force complaints. Of these officers, 183 had
at least four complaints, 44 had at least six complaints,
16 had at least eight complaints, and one officer had 16
complaints.36 Studies by the St. Clair Commission in the
Boston Police Department yielded similar findings,
showing that between 1989 and 1990, half of the officers
had a history of complaints, and ten percent of those
officers had at least ten previous complaints.37
To explain the presence of these problem officers,
several police researchers have created typologies of
police officers by which individuals are placed into
groups of personality types.38 For example, John J.
Broderick has one such typology in which he defines four
types of police personalities: "the enforcer," "the
idealist," "the realist," and "the optimist."39
Researchers who support the bad-apple theory are likely
to believe that one of these personality types
contributes the most to the group of "bad apple"
officersin this case it would be the "enforcer" type.
Because of the prevalence of these beliefs, pre-
employment tests have been developed to screen out these
"bad apples" from being hired into the police department.
The most common test of this type is the Minnesota
Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) test, which
endeavors to determine the emotional stability of new
Although this test has most likely contributed to the
decrease of police excessive-force incidents, its failure
as a panacea has revealed that the factors causing
officers to engage in this type of behavior are more
complicated than just the recruit's personality and
background. One study of this effect showed that
"problem officers" cannot be distinguished from other
officers "on the basis of any of a great number of
psychological measures, including authoritarianism."40
Another especially salient finding is that officers with
the propensity to use excessive force are frequently
better than average police officers by departmental
standards.41 These officers pursue crime more
aggressively, make more arrests, and are more apt to
enter dangerous situations than less aggressive officers.
A good example of this type of officer is the story of
Peter Marsala, a New York City Transit Police officer who
was cited for his bravery twelve times during his ten-
year career. Marsala readily entered dangerous
situations, rescuing passengers who had fallen between
subway cars (on nearly 20 occasions) and once entered a
burning building to save twelve women and children.
Along with these courageous actions, however, Marsala
also once beat a criminal so savagely that the offender
received permanent brain damage.42
Was Marsala a "bad apple" who slipped through the
entrance exams? Even with all of his exemplary behavior,
Marsala must still be categorized with other officers who
use excessive force. The same aggressive attitude that
made him an excellent officer also contributed to his
unwarranted behavior. Marsala's aggressive policing
attitude can be found in many police officers, even those
who do not use excessive force. This fact makes it
difficult to weed out problem officers before they are
hired into the police department; the same traits and
attitude that make one person a problem officer may make
another person an excellent candidate.
It has been found that the personality of police officers
is affected not only by their values, traits, and class
background, but by their socialization into the police
occupational subculture as well, making the prediction of
their excessive force propensity difficult.43 The
Christopher Commission also found that rather than
developing before recruitment, officers' excessive-force
problems may develop during their tenure in the
Officers not only affect police operations but are
affected by their participation in police operat-
ions ....Officers may thus change over time and may
develop problems related to their performance long
after their probationary period.44
In one study of the personality variables affecting the
use of excessive force by police, it was found that only
one variable significantly contributed to that behavior:
an officer's attitude towards citizens.45 Other than this
factor, the study concludes that personal
"characteristics contribute very little to an explanation
of the use of reasonable or improper force" in police
Just as excessive-force problems may be engendered during
an officer's tenure on the force, laypersons' attitudes
towards "civilians" are changed when they have spent any
amount of time in the shoes and uniform of a police
officer. Therefore, two of the main elements of this
theory are developed after the "bad apple" officers join
the police ranks, indicating that the reason the officers
use excessive force may be related to their job pressures
rather than to their inherent personal attitudes. At
best, the officers negative attitudes are augmented
within the organizational context, increasing their
already inherent proclivity to behave violently. "The
brutes have not slipped through the agencies filter," one
police chief stated, "rather, they've been shaped by the
But how can individuals with different attitudes and
personality traits enter the rank and file of a police
department and act in ways not consistent with those
attitudes and traits? The answer to this question may
lie in the third causal theory cited earlier: the police
subculture. Patrick Murphy, a former Police Commissioner
of New York, once stated:
The "rotten apple" theory won't work any longer.
Corrupt police officers are not natural born
criminals, nor morally wicked men, constitutionally
different from their honest colleagues. The task
of corruption control is to examine the barrel, not
just the applesthe organization, not just the
individuals in it, because corrupt police are made,
Further supporting the importance of the police-
subculture theory are the findings of the Citizens' Crime
Commission of Delaware Valley. The Commission not only
cites the fallacies of the "rotten apple" theory, but
argues that this theory actually facilitates the main
cause of police corruption (the police subculture) by
"reinforc[ing] the code of silence and act[ing] against
systematic reform of the police department."49 As Hubert
G. Locke states: "by focusing too much on the rotten
apples, one can miss the possibility that the barrel is
rotten and spoiling the contents."50
To summarize, both the "race" theory and the "bad apple"
theory appear to hinge on the existence of the police
subculture. If police racism causes excessive force, the
reason it does so appears to be that the police sub-
culture condones it. If "bad apples" are the cause of
excessive force, they appear to be allowed to do so by
the police subculture. In fact, the NAACP and several
others have combined these two theories, arguing that
much police excessive force is perpetrated by a few
racist officers.51 Hubert G. Locke states:
Conventional wisdom and healthy suspicion combine,
in this instance, to underscore the belief that the
disproportionately high number of citizens of color
involved in excessive force incidents are victims
of a relatively small proportion of officers, who
commit these offenses several times.52
This combination of the two arguments also supports the
police-subculture theory for the reasons stated
previously: the subculture protects, rather than
prosecutes, these officers. When statements such as
"sounds like monkey slapping time," and I almost got me
a Mexican last night but he dropped the damn gun too
quick" are made openly across police communications, it
indicates that these officers know they do not have to
keep their prejudices in the closet.53 Because of this
fact, the reasons why other officers support and allow
this appalling behavior can be best understood through
the last theory: the police subculture.
The Poline-Subt^ulture Theory
The causal theory of the police occupational subculture
probably received the most attention after George
Holliday's camcorder caught the Rodney King beating on
March 3, 1991. The brutal image flashing across
television screens opened the eyes of millions of
Americans to an arcane side of law enforcement: the
subculture that caused three officers to beat a prone,
tasered man while 23 other officers watched without
interfering.11 It was immediately evident that the "bad
apple" theory could be discounted in this case because,
although two or three cops can go berserk, "twenty cops
embody a subculture of policing."54 But why does the
police subculture exist, and how does it cause officers
to use excessive force? The police-subculture theory can
be divided into two interwoven ideologies: the "us v.
them" mentality, and "The Code." Both describe why the
police subculture exists, as well as how it causes
" A taser is an stun gun that delivers a powerful electric charge to incapacitate dangerous suspects.
The "Us v. Them" Mentality
The phenomenon of the current "us v. them" police
mentality has been traced by several authors to the
Progressive, or Reform, era of the 1930's.55 During this
time, police reformers sought to create a "professional"
police force in which police activities would be
performed in a more controlled and "scientific" manner
than they had been previously.56 To achieve this
"professionalization," officers were to be sequestered in
patrol cars and contact citizens only when a crime was
committed. The Reformers felt that this separation from
the community was essential to a "professional" police
department. However, many authors argue that the
resulting isolation of officers exacerbated the
detrimental "us v. them" police mentality that fosters
the use of excessive force. Kelling states that "the
alienation of officers from the communities they police
interferes with the effective exercise of their basic
authority, forcing police to rely inordinately on the
use of force."57
This paradigm is one that James Q. Wilson has called the
"crime attack" model.58 It portrays the image of police
officers as front-line soldiers engaging in a "war on
crime" in which criminals are the enemy. Military
metaphors such as the "thin blue line" depict officers as
the only obstacle holding back the tide of violent
criminals. This "war" demands an "all-out attack by
police upon criminalsno holding back, no quarter
given."59 The jargon within police departments is also
consistent with this military rhetoric, labeling police
units as "divisions," "platoons," "squads," and
"details." Within these units, "privates," or
"troopers," report to "sergeants," "lieutenants,"
"captains," "majors," and "colonels."60
The main problem with this crime-fighter mentality is
that it has accelerated the "us v. them" besieged
mentality in police officers. Wilson traced this
attitude in officers back to 1960, stating that the
majority of big-city officers see citizens as "at best
uncooperative and at worst hostile.... obey[ing] the law
only from fear of being caught."61 The Christopher
Commission noted this attitude again in 1991, stating
that because the majority of the people the police deal
with are those who have committed crimes, officers begin
to paint entire communities with the "brush of latent
criminality."62 George L. Kelling also noted the
detriments of this mentality, stating that it forces
officers to "rely inordinately on the use of force," and
to meet even mild resistance with "ordering, threatening,
physical posturing, presenting weapons, and other such
In one bizarre example of this aggressive attitude, two
drivers became angry at each other and engaged in a
verbal confrontation at a stoplight. One driver was an
off-duty police officer and pulled out a handgun. The
other driver was an on-duty undercover officer who also
drew his pistol and killed the first driver.64 Both
officers were employed by the Los Angeles Police
Department, which is known to value aggression in their
officers. Further indicating this mentality, a sign in
one LAPD police station reads "Burglars Beware! Make Sure
Your I.D. is Valid So We Will Know Where to Notify Your
Next of Kin."65
In the LAPD, officers are evaluated through statistical
measures like arrests and calls handled.66 Because of
this hard-nosed emphasis, the LAPD is known to have a
prominent "us v. them" mentality.67 As Joe Domanick
states, the LAPD credo was simple: "if you were at war,
compromise with the enemy was appeasement; if you were a
soldier, it was weakness."68 This mentality has justified
a virtual war against the communities of South Central
L.A., with "casualties" and abuses occurring with
alarming frequency.69 On one such occasion in South
Central L.A., 88 officers in the LAPD's Gang Task Force
raided four apartments and were told by their captain to
leave the building "uninhabitable." Carrying out this
order to the letter with sledge hammers and axes,
officers tore a stairwell away from one building, and
destroyed everything that could be broken:
They broke all the toilets, tore them from the
floor, and left water running everywhere. They
smashed in plaster walls with sledge hammers,
breaking everything in sight, including TV sets,
VCRs, and typewriters. Bedroom and living room sets
were smashed, couches and chairs were cut, bottles
of wine and jars of baby food were emptied on
clothes and bedding. Phone wires were cut, light
fixtures were destroyed,...70
In fact, the damage to the apartments was so severe that
the Red Cross offered the residents temporary shelter and
disaster-assistance services which are normally provided
only for severe natural disasters like fires, floods, or
earthquakes.71 Along with this property damage, "LAPD
rules" was spray-painted on the walls, and 32 captives of
the raid were forced to whistle the theme song from the
Andy Griffith show as they "ran a gauntlet of cops
beating them with fists and long steel flashlights."72
Another well-known example of this "us v. them" mentality
in action is that of the 1985 MOVE incident in
Philadelphia. When a group of black radicals with
outstanding arrest warrants refused to come out of a
house in a predominantly black neighborhood, Philadelphia
police responded by pouring thousands of rounds of
ammunition into the residence and flooded it with water
cannons. This response not having the desired effect, a
police helicopter hovered over the roof and an officer
dropped a powerful explosive onto the house. The
resulting explosion and fire (which was allowed to burn)
killed five children and six adults, and destroyed 62 of
the surrounding homes.73
The "no holds barred" intensity of the officer's actions
in both of these examples reflects the deep-rooted "us v.
them" subculture mentality in both police departments.
In LA, police chief Daryl Gates admired the MOVE bombing
so much that he labeled those responsible "heros" for
their handling of the incident.74 And in defense of
officers' actions in one excessive-force case, Gates
stated that "Mr. Larez was lucky to have only his nose
broken," a comment which so angered the jury that it
raised the victim's damages by $200,000.75
In Philadelphia, statements made by Police Commissioner
Frank Rizzo indicate a similar hard-line attitude towards
the "war on crime": "'The way to treat criminals is
spacco il capa' to bust their heads" and; "'I'm gonna
make Attila the Hun look like a faggot after this
election's over.'"76 The fact that this mentality is
pervasive in the rest of the nation's police departments
is indicated from a metaphor used in early 1991 by then
Attorney General Richard Thornburgh during one of the
"crime summits." Thornburgh urged police officials to
attack crime as viciously as U.S. troops did during
Let me turn once again to the example of Desert
storm.... Here at home in the fight against violent
crime we should employ, to be sure, the same
command and control, the same ingenuity and
The effect this mentality has had on police officers is
evident in statements they have made concerning their
-"If you're put in a situation of using deadly force,
don't fire once and think that the person you're
shooting at is gonna go down. At least let three
-"I'd rather be judged by twelve than carried by
-"One of the first things that's imbued upon you when
you come on this job is never think this guy is gonna
come peaceful. Always assume he's gonna fight like
Satan. With anybody at all."80
-"A police officer struggling with an offender may seem
brutal, but it's because you have to defeat the guy,
you have to finish them off right away or you're
-"When I worked Homicide, I was living in a nice
neighborhood. But I wouldn't take the garbage out
without my gun. I'd be at home, reading a book, and I
kept my pistol next to me. Because they were never
going to get me."82
Officers are constantly reminded that this aggressive
attitude is not only valued by the subculture, but it is
considered necessary for their survival. In a study to
identify the characteristics shared by officers who were
killed in the line of duty, the FBI found that:
...murdered officers share common personality
traits, such as being easygoing, reluctant to use
force, and [they] may suffer from decreasing
performance evaluations prior to their death.83
It is understood that just an aggressive attitude is a
"good" characteristic, being easygoing and reluctant to
use force are both characteristics that can get officers
killed; in the world of the police subculture, "nice
guys" really do finish last.84
Researchers who have identified officer typologies (such
as those in the "bad apple" theory) indicate that there
is one "type" of police officer who was more likely to
use improper force than others: the "tough cop."85 This
type of officer 1) sees the police role in terms of crime
control, 2) believes that citizens are hostile to police,
3) believes that "curbstone justice is sometimes
appropriate and effective," and 4) identifies with the
"police culture."86 Interestingly, this "tough cop"
ideology appears.to be nearly identical to the mentality
identified in the police subculture as a whole. Worden
summarizes this ideology as an officer being more apt to:
(a) conceive the police role in narrow terms,
limited to crime-fighting and law enforcement,
(b) believe that their role is more effectively
carried out when officers can use force at their
discretion, and (c)regard the citizenry as un-
appreciative at best and hostile at worst.87
In a nutshell, this ideology reflects the "siege"
mentality exacerbated by the "professional" model's
isolation of police officers from their communities.
Skolnick and Fyfe state that just as the Los Angeles
Police Department was the model of what a "professional"
police department should be, its "vision and values
became entrenched as an element of the traditional police
culture."88 M. E. Buerger has identified this element of
the police culture as well, stating that "the street cop
culture truly and firmly believes that 'kick ass and take
names' is the best way to do both crime control and
This "rough and ready" approach to policing has been
positively identified as one of the factors causing
police to use excessive force. Skolnick and Fyfe state
that the use of these hard-nosed military metaphors and
comparison of police to soldiers in a "war on crime" is a
"major cause of police violence and the violation of
citizens' rights."90 Likewise, the NAACP states that the
mentality of officers engaged in both the "war on crime,"
and the "war on drugs," gives police "a free hand to
harass, violate the rights of, and brutalize minority
"What is the war on drugs?," one Seattle attorney asked;
"it's a war on people, and with a war, there's going to
be collateral damages."92 Klockars also identified this
type of mentality as causing the police use of excessive
...any kind of a real war on crime is something no
democratic society would be prepared to let its
police fight. We would simply be unwilling to
tolerate the kind of abuses the civil liberties of
innocent citizensto usthat fighting any kind of a
real war on crime would inevitably involve.93
Lastly, the Christopher Commission made a direct
correlation between "the Los Angeles Police Department's
image as crime controllers and the organizational culture
that permitted a few officers to act brutally."94
The nature of the police subculture appears to not only
condone, but to pressure officers into brutal behavior
towards those identified as "the enemy.nit However, this
para-military structure and mentality of the police is
only part of the subculture causal theory of police
excessive force. On its own, it does not fully explain
the tremendous pressure towards abuse that the police
socialization process exhibits.
Jennifer Hunt (1985) notes that women officers are not exempt from this pressure. She states that "it
becomes crucial for [female officers] to create or exploit opportunities to display their physical abilities in
order to overcome sexual bias and obtain full acceptance from coworkers," p. 318. In fact, the pressure
may be amplified in female rookies, encouraging them to "act more aggressively and to display more
machismo than male rookies," p. 310. Both quotes cited by Hans Toch in Geller and Toch (1996), p.
The second part of the police subculture is a number of
unwritten rules known simply as "The Code." These rules
have been compared to the unwritten rules of baseball
that govern when it is appropriate to "pitch at, or very
close to, a batter...[and] what sort of physical contact,
in what sort of game situations is acceptable."95
When a person becomes a police officer, he or she has
done more than simply take on a different job. As one
police chief put it: "the day the new recruit walks
through the doors of the police academy, he leaves
society behind to enter a profession that does more than
give him a job, it defines who he is."96 This change of
identity remains with an officer both on and off duty,
drastically changing the officer's habits and relation-
ships. Another police chief stated that when he first
became a police officer, he lost the majority of his
"civilian" friends.97 There are several main reasons for
this change in pre-law-enforcement relationships.
The first is that, as officers are acculturated into the
police subculture, they begin to view all civilians more
suspiciously. D. J. Dodd has noted this effect, stating
that the identification with other police officers
results in the individual's "forging a social bond...at
the same time it generates a great deal of mutual
suspicion."98 Skolnick and Fyfe also state that "cops
don't trust other peoplewhich is practically everybody
who is not a cop."99 Because suspicion is an
"institutionalized feature" of the police, officers are
"continually looking for cues that identify others as a
potential source of danger, disorder, or law
A second reason is that at the same time officers are
becoming more suspicious, civilians begin to feel
uncomfortable around officers, fearing prosecution for
even minor offenses they are not aware of. And lastly,
officers soon realize that civilians cannot understand
the problems faced by police officers. Dealing with the
"broken bodies of children, handl[ing] smelly DOA's, and
wallow[ing] in puke, gore, urine, brains, and offal," is
something that civilians just cannot, and don't want to,
relate to.101 For these reasons, friendships with non-
officers become difficult, with both the officer and the
civilian feeling that they cannot "be themselves."
As a result of this schism, officers draw the vast
majority of their support and approval from other
officers. Because of this narrow peer group, officers
conform to the intense influence and control of the
beliefs prevalent within the groupbeliefs that are, as
Chief Anthony V. Bouza once put it, "orthodoxy, loyalty,
obedience, and silence."102 Officers develop an attitude
towards these beliefs that is best described as
"cloning," in which "a diverse group is so indoctrinated
into the police culture that they become all but
indistinguishable."103 New recruits learn how to be
police officers from other officers rather than from
their police academy training. One author states that
"rookies are quickly led to believe that their academy
experience was merely a rite of passage, that the
training they received there is irrelevant to the
realities of policing..."104 James J. Fyfe states that
when the "behavioral structures" in which rookies were
schooled are "routinely ignored in practice, formal
training is neutralized and the definitions of
appropriate behavior are instead made in the secrecy of
officers' locker rooms."105
The main ideal shared by this subculture is "The Code," a
fierce and unquestioning loyalty among officers that
"calls upon them to go to extreme lengths to protect one
another from punishment or any other form of danger."106
As it pertains to street peril, assisting other officers
is more important than any other duty. One cop put it as
follows: "an 'assist police officer' call is every cop's
first priority. The ultimate betrayal is for one cop to
fail to back up another."107 This loyalty is so fierce
that in one survey, over half of the officers polled
admitted that they would "participate in the street
execution of a suspect known to have killed a police
officer."108 And beyond polls, the Adolph Archie case
cited earlier indicates that some officers will actually
Another mandate of "The Code" is for officers to treat
harshly suspects who resist arrest. One author has been
told by officers that "any force short of actually
killing the subject is acceptable whenever an individual
When someone resists arrest you have to teach them
a lesson. You have to. He may kill the next police-
man who tries to arrest him. My sergeant says that
there is no resisting unless the man goes to the
hospital. So we send them to the hospital.109
Similar beliefs are held for those who are found to be in
"contempt of cop," or "flunk the attitude test" by not
deferring to an officer's authority.110 Those put through
a "lesson of compliance" may be harassed, delayed
unnecessarily, or even beaten. Officers have various
techniques to begin such an instruction on compliance.
One of these tactics is to repeatedly point a finger in
the face of a belligerent person or to tap their chest
with the index finger. The natural reaction is for the
person to slap the officers hand away, inadvertently
"assaulting a police officer" and initiating the
"lesson."111 Joy Walker, a Greeley woman, described to
the media how this tactic was used against her:
...the officer ordered [Walker] to 'lower your
voice, as he jabbed her in the chest with his
finger. She said she slapped his hand away. 'The
next thing I know, I feel my head slamming the
concrete. And then he stepped on my head.'112
Another, more deviant, way of accomplishing the same end
is for an officer to order the person to "spread eagle"
to be searched for weapons, and to instruct them NOT TO
MOVE. While "frisking," the officer sticks the person in
the armpit, or some other sensitive area, with a needle
hidden in the officer's sleeve. In consideration of the
officer's safety, when the person jerks an arm down or
jumps away, the officer is obliged to "take them down."
This second method works especially well when there is an
audience to observe that the person was indeed not
compliant and appeared to attack the officer.113
Perhaps one of the most serious "contempt of cop"
transgressions is for a motorist to flee from officers.
When the majority of citizens "check their speedometers
in the mere presence of police cars," a fleeing motorist
is seen, not only as challenging police authority, but as
being extremely dangerous as well.114 This combination
results in an extremely high percentage of police chases
ending in cases of police excessive force. In fact, one
veteran police officer divulged that "he had never seen a
police chase that did not end with at least a black eye
delivered to the subject of the chase."115 And indeed,
high profile cases like the Rodney King and Arthur
McDuffie cases indicate that many high-speed chases do
result in police use of excessive force.
The last of the dictates of "The Code" is "the code of
silence," or the "blue curtain." Like omerta, the Mafia
rule of secrecy, "the code of silence" solely requires
that officers not "rat" on other officers. The 20
officers who observed the Rodney King beating kept "the
code of silence," as did the LAPD officers who observed
the beating and humiliation of the 32 hostages required
to run the "gauntlet." In both cases, their silence
restricted attempts to prosecute those responsible; in
the latter case it precluded prosecution of three
officers entirely.116 The scope of this problem is
indicated by a two-year study in New York City. Of 8,000
investigated police-misconduct complaints during 1987 and
1988, not one officer gave up incriminating evidence on
another officer.117 The Christopher Commission also
stated that "perhaps the greatest single barrier to the
effective investigation and adjudication of complaints is
the officers' unwritten 'code of silence'..."118
Furthermore, in the Norfolk Hearings, Herman E. Springs
testified that during his 21 years as a police officer,
"the code of silence" had always been practiced.119 And
staffing within police departments also indicates the
strength of "the code of silence." Clerical or other
jobs that do not require the use of force are filled
almost exclusively with police officers rather than
The reason officers adhere to "the code of silence" is
related to both the "us v. them" mentality and the other
tenets of "The Code." Firstly, because officer
solidarity is due to a common "enemy," any attack on a
police officer is seen as an attack on the whole group.
William K. Muir documented this rationale in the perjury
of a Laconia police officer:
Eventually he quieted his self-doubts about giving
false testimony by characterizing it as an act of
courage in the fight between Us and Them. In the
battle between policemen and the rest of the world,
no holds were barred.121
Secondly, officers realize that because of the nature of
their job, they stand a very high chance of being accused
of misconduct. In defending other police officers
against any allegations, the officer hopes the favor will
be reciprocated if he or she is ever placed in a similar
situation. And thirdly, because of the importance of
"back up" in dangerous situations, officers need to rely
on the assistance of other police officers. A reputation
for "ratting" may result in other officers failing to
respond when the whistle blower's life depends on it.122
Instead of the "assist police officer" call being the
highest priority, other officers will be "busy" or "en
route to a Code-7 (lunch)" instead.123
Because of these realities of the police role, officers
face tremendous socialization pressures to adhere to both
"The Code" and the "us v. them" mentality. And
identification with this mentality appears to be what
produces the vast majority of police excessive force
...[it is] this sense of being a "thin blue line"
pitted against forces of anarchy and disorder,
against an unruly and dangerous underclass, that
can account for the most shocking abuses of police
"The Code" and the "us v. them" mentality seem to have an
almost symbiotic relationship, feeding off each other and
strengthening the detrimental aspects of the police
subculture. The "us v. them" mentality condones the
beating of certain groups of "them," usually identified
as "assholes," and "The Code" demands uniformity and
support of this behavior from other officers. Suspects
who are found to be in "contempt of cop," resist arrest,
flee from officers, fail the "attitude test," or are
part of certain classes of deviants (hardened criminals,
sex criminals), all fall into the "asshole" category
against whom excessive force may be used. As one author
put it, "such physical retaliation for the antics of an
'asshole' is justified according to the doctrine of
It is in the labeling of these "assholes" that the race
theory may be a powerful factor. Along with those
normally categorized as members of this loathed group of
"assholes," some departmental variations of the police
subculture may also identify certain minority groups as
part and parcel of the "asshole" group. If this type of
prejudice is included in the subculture mentality (and
some argue that it is in most police subcultures),
excessive force is condoned not only against the
"assholes," but against minority groups as well.126 And
the fact that excessive force is condoned against this
group for purposes of "asshole control" appears to be
what causes many instances of police excessive force. As
one prominent author put it: "the largest percentage of
all acts of police brutality are the result of
occupational socialization and peer group support."127
Further appearing to support the police-subculture causal
paradigm are external factors. One of these factors is
the "incestuous" prosecutor-police relationship.
Prosecutors not only work with police officers on a daily
basis, but they have a similar "enemy" and similar goals:
to get the bad guys off of the street. Because of this
close relationship, prosecutors are extremely reluctant
to alienate law enforcement by prosecuting police
officers for instances of excessive force, and seem to do
so only when forced to by a preponderance of evidence and
public pressure.128 And even when officers are charged,
it is very easy for prosecutors to make less than
convincing arguments or even neglect to present all of
the evidence or call credible witnesses.129 The fact that
prosecutors can relate more to the officer than to the
victim of police excessive force results in a lack of
desire to prosecute the officer.
Another factor supporting the police subculture and the
use of excessive force is that of jury acquittals, a
factor closely related to the prosecutor-police
relationship. Just as prosecutors can relate more to the
officer than the victim of police excessive force, juries
usually can as well. The victim is usually seen as a
low-life criminal, while the officer is seen as a one of
the good guys who may have made a mistake. As the NAACP
states, "jurors ask themselves whether they should
sacrifice the police officer, who is just trying to help
them, or whether they should be a little generous under
the circumstances."130 Through the eyes of the jury, if
anyone "deserves" to be punished, it is the criminal, not
the officer. And sometimes, jury members feel that
because of the criminal's actions, he actually "deserved"
whatever treatment he got. The polarized dynamics of
officer prosecutions seem inherently to draw both the
prosecutor and the jury to the officer's side of the
case, resulting in a high percentage of acquittals.131
A third supporting factor of the subculture proclivity to
use excessive force is the case law surrounding the use
of a resisting-arrest charge. The Supreme Court
decisions of Hoines v. Barney's Club, Inc. (1980), and
Town of Newton v. Rumery (1987) found that the government
could drop a criminal complaint against a citizen if the
citizen voluntarily agreed to release the officers and
agency from civil liability.132 The net effect of this
legality is that it has allowed officers to cover any
wrongful use of force by charging the victim with
criminal charges (usually resisting arrest or assaulting
an officer) .133 This strategy not only discredits the
victim's complaint and "justifies" the officer's use of
force, but also pressures the victim not to file a
lawsuit against the police department so that his or her
own charges will be dropped. And sometimes, any
potential witnesses will be charged as well to "challenge
their credibility as impartial observers."134 This time-
honored practice occurs so frequently that some
researchers have used the charge of resisting arrest as a
pointer to identify which cases to study for police use
of excessive force.135
The fourth external supporting factor is the innate
stress and pressure of police work. There are many
sources of stress that strengthen the solidarity of the
police subculture and result in increased instances of
excessive force. Barker and Carter identify several
categories of these stressors,136 among these are:
1) Life-Threatening Stressors. Officers know that they
are in continual danger of potential injury or death
from intentional violent acts.
2) Social-Isolation Stressors. These stressors result
from isolation and alienation from the officer's
3) Organizational Stressors. The peer pressure,
administrative performance pressure, and other pressures
and difficulties faced while officers try to move up in
the extremely competitive atmosphere of a police
4) Personal Stressors. These stressors are a result of
problems in an officer's off-duty life. Marital problems,
family illness, and other personal or family crisis are
examples of the source of this type of stress (all of
which appear to be exacerbated by the demanding nature of
5) Physiological Stressors. Sources of this type of
stress are the irregular shift hours of police work,
and fatigue from working off-duty jobs.
6) Psychological stressors. These stressors are probably
the strongest and most detrimental. The fear of the
unknown when responding to a dangerous call, the
adrenaline rush in a critical situation, and the violent
crimes an officer has to deal with all create a certain
amount of psychological stress that affects the officer's
outlook on the rest of society. "In order to deal with
the hurt children, blood, human misery, and anguish," one
veteran officer stated that police "unconsciously grow
calluses over their emotions."137 This callousness can
increase instances of excessive force because officers
are so disgusted with crime that they begin to view many
criminals as sub-human, especially when it seems that
criminals are released "before the ink is dry on their
arrest reports."138 Another officer interviewed by John
Van Maanen stated:
The only way you survive on this job is to grow
calluses, you put on a shell the beginning of every
shift and take it off when you get home. When I'm
working, I'm as hard as stone 'cause I gotta be,
it's my only defense.139
One police officer tells the story of his investigation
in the death of a two-year old baby. The house the baby
was killed in was filled with feces shoveled into corners
and plastic milk bottles filled with urine:
I'm looking at this little bodythere are marks and
marks and marks all over it. It was hard to find
any spots on the body that did not have scars or
welts. There were burn marks from cigarettes.... The
father told us what happened. He said the baby
knocked over one of the urine bottles, and he
chastised the baby by beating it with a [electric]
cord....He told us, 'you got to discipline
them.'...You stand there and listen to stuff like
this and you want to beat the living dogshit out of
The fact that police officers have to deal with these
violent crimes and unconscionable criminals on a routine
basis forces them to view people differently and view
emotionally disturbing situations as though they were
normal. An indicator of this calloused mentality in
police officers is the "gallows" humor that is so
prevalent. One officer talks about handing a decapitated
human head to a young ambulance technician:
She screamed and ran off. This brought howls, peals
of laughter from the cops. This was the funniest
thing they'd ever seen. Now this is sick, but
that's how it is with cops.141
Police officers wearing T-shirts that say "Brutality, the
fun part of police work," and "Go ahead, make my day,"
are further examples of this humor. In one department,
officers killed a suspect with a choke-hold, and as a
result the hold was prohibited by the chief of police.
In protest, T-shirts that said "Don't choke 'em, smoke
'em" were distributed to officers on the day of the
suspect's funeral.142 This callousness not only affects
officers' attitudes towards excessive force, but also
their off-duty life as well. Because of this stress,
officers have high drug- and alcohol-related problems, an
extremely high divorce rate, and the highest percentage
of "occupational-related" suicides in the country.143
The fact that the various stressors intrinsically
facilitate the police subculture further strengthens this
theory as a causal factor of police excessive force. The
already symbiotic relationship between "The Code," and
the "us v. them" mentality is intensified by the
tremendous stress that is unique to the police
occupation. One officer has compared society to that of
a tall building, where the very rich live at the top and
the very poor live at the bottom. He states that "only
cops travel to all the floors, only cops see it all."144
The police subculture is strengthened because civilians
do not understand this stress, and instances of excessive
force increase because "criminals" are seen through the
distorted glass of the rest of society's transgressions.
How can officers beat, kick, and stomp a handcuffed man
to death? The hatreds that build up from years of
witnessing violent rape victims, murdered children, and
brutal homicides may partially explain how. Certain
actions, like high-speed chases and other "contempt-of-
cop" activities, trigger the pent up emotions inside
police officers and cause them to react the way they do.
In short, "the asshole stands, then, as a ready ersatz
for those whom the police will nevershort of a miracle
be in a position to directly encounter and confront."145
The second part of the explanation is that the police
subculture allows it. The bond (and resulting silence)
between officers, and the shared "us v. them" mentality,
allow brutal acts to be perpetuated by officers when a
criminal is finally apprehended.
Whether the actual impetus be accumulated stress, racism,
or a just a "bad apple" cop, the act of excessive force
itself is condoned by the police subculture, making it
appear to be the foremost "cause" of police excessive
force. Without the sub-cultural support of those who use
excessive force, officers would be more reluctant to
treat suspects without respect to their rights. In this
sense, many of the individual causes of police excessive
force can be explained by the subculture theory; the
police subculture accelerates the causes of excessive
force by condoning them. Without a breaking down of this
sub-cultural support of officers who use excessive force,
the problem will continue to perpetuate itself.
NOTES FROM CHAPTER THREE
1. Friedrich, R. J. (1980). "Police Use ofForce: Individuals, Situations, and Organizations," cited by
David L. Carter in Barker and Carter (1994), p. 274.
2. Worden, Robert E., "The Causes of Police Brutality: theory and evidence on police use of force," in
Geller and Toch (1996).
3. Friedrich, R. J., cited by David L. Carter in Barker and Carter (1993).
4. Two of the many works indicating this are, Cleveland Sellers, "The Orangeburg Massacre, 1968," in It
Did Happen Here: recollections of political repression in America, ed. Bud Schultz and Ruth Schultz
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989); and David Rudovsky, "The Criminal Justice System and
the Role of the Police," in The Politics of Law: a progressive critique, ed. David Kairys (New York:
Pantheon Press, 1982).
5. The Kemer Commission in The Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, cited
by David Rudovsky in Kairys (1982), p. 245.
6. See NAACP (1995), Beyond the Rodney King Story, Khalif Khalifah (1992), Rodney King and the
L.A. Rebellion-, Dennis E. Gale (1996), Understanding Urban Unrest (Thousand Oak: Sage Publications,
1996); and Robert Gooding-Williams (1993), Reading Rodney King: reading urban uprising (New
York: Routledge, 1993).
7. Murphy, Laura, cited by Scott Shepard, "Police target blacks, NAACP charges," in The Rocky
Mountain News, Tuesday, July 15,1997.
8. Burt Holman, "Officers new trial reopens racial wounds," in The Rocky Mountain News, Monday
9. Combs, Casey, "White police officer acquitted in black motorist's suffocation," in The Rocky Mountain
News, Thursday November 14,1996.
10. Reuter, "St. Petersburg racial crisis cools off," in The Rocky Mountain News, Friday, November 15,
11. See Pyle, Richard, "Cop bragged about plunger torture, newspaper reports," in The Rocky Mountain
News, August 20,1997; and Cynthia Tucker, "Brutality mars good police work," The Denver Post,
12. See Geller and Toch (1996); the NAACP (1995); and Barker and Carter (1994).
13. Hacker, Andrew (1992), cited by the NAACP (1995).
14. The NAACP (1995), p. 14.
15. Barker and Carter (1994), p. 211.
16. See the NAACP (1995); Salim Muwakkil, "Racism Causes Police Brutality," in Dudley (1991); and
the NAACP (1992).
17. The Christopher Commission, cited by the NAACP (1995), p. 102.
18. The NAACP (1995).
19. Barker and Carter (1994) cite three main types of research methodology that indicate the complexity
of this relationship (p. 212):
1) Incidents of shootings compared to the groups arrest rates.
2) Situational characteristics of each incident (whether officers killed minorities in situations that
were less justifiable than the incidents involving whites).
3) A comparison of shootings in white and minority neighborhoods.
The first is presented by methodological problems of arrests being biased as well as shootings, and,
difficulty of deciding which set of arrests to use (violent crimes or all crimes). The second and third
methodologies depend on situational baseline data which is inadequate to determine shooting justification.
20. See Geller and Toch (1996).
21. Ibid, p. 24.
22. Worden, Robert E., Ibid, p. 37.
23. Ibid., p. 35.
24. Ibid., p. 37.
25. Geller and Korales (1981), cited by Hubert G. Locke, Ibid., p. 136.
26. See Charles E. Silberman, Criminal Violence, Criminal Justice (New York: Vintage Books, 1978).
27. The Christopher Commission, p. 74, cited by Hubert G. Locke, Ibid., p. 137.
28. Barker and Carter (1994) cite Matulia (1985), Geller and Karales (1981), Blumberg (1981), Fyfe
(1981), Milton et al. (1977), and the Dallas Police Department (1974) on p. 212; Lonnie H. Athens cites
Wolfgang and Ferracuti (1967), in The Creation of Dangerous Violent Criminals (Chicago: University of
Illinois Press, 1992); and Thomas L. Dumm cites Wilson and Herrnstein (1985), in Gooding-Williams
29. Pierson (1978) questions whether arrest statistics are a valid indicator of the frequency minorities
commit crimes, Barker and Carter (1994).
30. The Dallas Police Department (1974); reference to "scientific racism" is borrowed from Thomas L.
Dumm in Gooding-Williams (1993).
31. Locke, Hubert G., in Geller and Toch (1996), p. 133.
32. The NAACP (1995), p. 71.
33. See Skolnick and Fyfe (1993). They state that the "cardinal sin" of fleeing from the police rarely ends
without violence (p. 10). Also quoted is one veteran Los Angeles police officer who states that he had
never seen a police chase that "did not end with at least a black eye delivered to the subject of the chase"
34. Ibid., see pp. 35,134.
35. See Hubert G. Locke, in Geller and Toch (1996).
36. Christopher, William, et al. (1991), "Summary Report," Report of the Independent Commission on
the Los Angeles Police Department, in Barker and Carter (1994).
37. Findings of the St. Clair Commission, cited by NAACP (1995).
38. Robert E. Worden cites Susan O. White (1972), William Kerr Muir (1977), John J. Broderick (1977),
and Michael K. Brown (1981), in Geller and Toch (1996).
39. Broderick, John J., typology cited by Charles P. Mcdowell (1984), p. 184.
40. Study by Sam McCormick (1968), "Patterns of Involvement in Altercations between the Police and
Citizens," cited by Rodney Stark (1972), p. 11.
41. The Christopher Commission found that the identified "bad apples" were ranked by their superiors as
being better than average in the performance of their duties. Cited by J. Douglas Grant and Joan Grant in
Geller and Toch (1996).
42. Cited by Skolnick and Fyfe (1993).
43. Studies citing this finding are J. M. Poland (1978), "Police Selection Methods and the Prediction of
Police Performance," Journal of Police Science and Administration, and Mills and Stratton (1982), "The
MMPI and the Prediction of Police Job Performance," in the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin 51. Both
cited by J. Douglas Grant and Joan Grant in Geller and Toch (1996).
44. Statement on the Christopher Commission's findings by J. Douglas Grant and Joan Grant, in Geller
and Toch (1996), p. 155.
45. Worden, Robert E., in Geller and Toch (1996).
46. Worden, Robert E., Ibid., p. 42.
47. Bouza, Anthony V., in Dudley (1991), p. 8.
48. Murphy, Patrick (1973). "Police Corruption," Police Chief (December), p. 72, cited by Thomas
Barker in Barker and Carter (1994), p. 46.
49. Citizens' Crime Commission of Delaware Valley, supra note 94, at 18, cited by John Dombrink, in
Barker and Carter (1994), p. 71.
50. Locke, Hubert, G., in Geller and Toch (1996), p. 139.
51. See the NAACP (1995); and Geller and Toch (1996).
52. Locke, Hubert G., in Geller and Toch (1996), p. 139.
53. Statements made by LAPD officers across Mobile Data Terminals, cited by Joe Domanick LAPD: to
protect and serve (New York: Pocket Books, 1995), p. 402.
54. Skolnick and Fyfe (1993), p. 13.
55. Both James Q. Wilson and George Kelling have noted this era as exacerbating the "us v. them"
56. Kelling, George L., and Catherine M. Coles, Fixing Broken Windows: restoring order and reducing
crime in our communities (New York: The Free Press, 1996).
57. Kelling and Coles (1996), p. 97.
58. Wilson, James Q., Thinking About Crime (1975).
59. Kelling, George L., cited by Miller and Hess (1994), p. 64.
60. Skolnick and Fyfe (1993), p. 113.
61. Wilson, James Q., Thinking About Crime (New York: Basic Books, 1975), p. 105.
62. The Christopher Commission, p. 74, cited by Hubert G. Locke, p. 137 in Geller and Toch (1996).
63. Kelling, George L., and Katherine M. Coles (1996), p. 97.
64. Associated Press, "Officer fired in self defense, reports say," in The Rocky Mountain News, March
65. Sign mentioned by former police chief Raymond Davis, in Skolnick and Fyfe (1993), p. 13.
66. The Christopher Commission, p. 8, cited in Community Policing: comparative perspectives and
prospects (New York: St Martins Press, 1992), p. 177.
67. Among those identifying this mentality are Skolnick and Fyfe (1993), Tom Owens Lying Eyes (New
York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 1994), Mike Davis City of Quartz: excavating the future of Los Angeles
(London: Verso, 1992), the NAACP (1995), and the Christopher Commission.
68. Dominick, Joe, (1994), p. 204.
69. Mike Davis documents many of these abuses in City of Quartz (1992).
70. Skolnick and Fyfe (1993), p. 108.
71. The Los Angeles Times Magazine, cited by Mike Davis (1992), p. 276.
72. Davis, Mike (1992), p. 276.
73. Associated Press, "Wound festers in Philadelphia," The Rocky Mountain News, May 7,1995.
74. Statement made by Chief Gates on CBS's 'Face the Nation' in 1985, cited by Mike Davis (1992),
75. Statement made by ex-Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates, cited by Mike Davis (1992), p. 276.
76. Statements made by Frank Rizzo to reporters, cited in Skolnick and Fyfe (1993), p. 139.
77. Statement made by Attorney General Richard Thornburgh in his keynote address to the Attorney
General's Summit on "Law Enforcement Responses to Violent Crime: Public Safety in the Nineties,"
March 4,1991, cited by Skolnick and Fyfe (1993), Ibid., p. 114.
78. Unidentified officer interviewed by Connie Fletcher in What Cops Know (New York: Villard Books,
1990), p. 15.
79. A favorite phrase of police officers, cited by David Lester in Geller and Toch (1996), p. 183.
80. Unidentified officer interviewed by Connie Fletcher (1990), p. 15.
81. Ibid., p. 16.
82. Ibid., p. 97.
83. Findings of the FBI report Killed in the Line of Duty, summarized by William R. King and Beth A.
Sanders, "Nice Guys Finish Last," in Policing journal, volume 20, number 2,1997, p. 393.
84. Alluding to the title of King and Sanders article, Ibid.
85. Robert E. Worden states that the "tough cop" label was used by Susan O. White (1972), but this type
of officer has been identified by many researchers. Worden also identified this type of officer as
possessing the greatest propensity to use improper force, in Geller and Toch (1996).
86. Worden, Robert E., Ibid., p. 26.
87. Worden, Robert E., Ibid., p. 27.
88. Skolnick and Fyfe (1993), p. 106.
89. Buerger, Michael E., in Weisburd and Uchida (1993), p. 117.
90. Skolnick and Fyfe (1993), p. 115.
91. TheNAACP (1995), p. 103.
92. Seattle attorney Timothy K Ford, cited in Dudley (1991), p. 18.
93. Klockars, Carl B., "The Rhetoric of Community Policing," in Community Policing: Rhetoric or
Reality, ed. Jack R. Greene and Stephen D. Mostrofski (New York: Praeger, 1986), p. 244.
94. Statement made by John E. Eck in Weisburd and Uchida (1993), p. 74.
95. Statement made by George Will, cited in Skolnick and Fyfe, p. 90.
96. New Haven Police Chief James Ahem, cited by Skolnick and Fyfe (1993), p. 91.
97. Glendale Police Chief Ken Burge, personal interview in April, 1997.
98. Dodd, D. J., "Police Mentality and Behavior," Issues in Criminology, 3, No. 1. (Summer 1967), p. 56-
57, cited by Coffey, Eldefonso, and Hartinger, Human Relations: law enforcement in a changing
community (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall Inc., 1982), p. 166.
99. Skolnick and Fyfe (1993), p. 92.
100. Stark, Rodney (1972), p. 92.
101. Part of a statement made by Anthony V. Bouza, in Dudley (1991), p. 85.
102. Bouza, Anthony V., Statement made in The Police Mystique (1990), cited in Skolnick and Fyfe
(1993), p. 89.
103. Statement made by George Felkenes in describing the socialization of officers into the Los Angeles
Police Department, in Skolnick and Fyfe (1993), p. 139.
104. Worden, Robert E., in Geller and Toch (1996), p. 29.
105. Fyfe, James J Ibid., p. 167.
106. Klockars, Carl B., Ibid., p. 16.
107. Bouza, Anthony V., in Dudley (1991), p. 86.
108. Study by David Lester and Ten Brink (1984), cited by David Lester, in Geller and Toch (1996), p.
182. Further evidence of officers unwillingness to refrain from certain unlawful actions may be found in
an unpublished dissertation by Michael Cummings (Stanford University, 1974). In his study of police
officers, Cummings found that the the vast majority of officers were no more law and order prone than
109. Unidentified veteran police officer quoted by Barker and Carter (1994), p. 127.
110. Locke, Hubert G., in Geller and Toch (1996), p. 143.
111. A tactic divulged by one police chief and admitted by other officers personal interviews.
112. Walker, Joy, account stated by Robert Jackson, "Complaint over cops in Greeley spurs probe," in
The Rocky Mountain News, November 15,1997.
113. Personal interview with a police commander, 1995.
114. Skolnick and Fyfe (1993), p. 11.
115. Unidentified veteran Los Angeles police officer cited by Skolnick and Fyfe (1993), p. 10-11.
116. The charges were dropped because the prosecutor in the case said that the LAPD's "code of silence"
prevented officers from testifying against other officers, Ibid., p. 108.
117. New York Civil Liberties Union, results described by executive director Norman Siegel, cited by
Eric Harrison, in Dudley (1991), p. 19.
118. The Report of the Christopher Commission, p. 168, cited by Robert E. Worden in Geller and Toch
(1996), p. 31.
119. Testimony of Norfolk Director of Police, Herman E. Springs during the Norfolk Hearings, cited by
the NAACP (1995), p. 79.
120. The staffing of clerical and other inner-departmental jobs with officers has been a tremendous
obstacle to Community Policing programs as well. George Kelling, Anthony Bouza, and a horde of other
authors have stated that this resistance to "going civilian" has strengthened the detrimental aspects of the
121. Rationalization of officer Chacon, in William K. Muir, Police: Streetcorner Politicians (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1977), p. 207.
122. These police subculture factors contributing to the "blue curtain" are cited in Barker and Carter
(1994), p. 331-332.
123. Such situations are noted by ex-LAPD officer Tom Owens in Lying Eyes (1994); Director of police
Herman E. Springs in the NAACP (1995); and in personal interviews with police chiefs Alan Pfeuffer and
Ken Burge, both in early 1997.
124. Skolnick and Fyfe (1993), p. 93.
125. Van Maanen, John (1974), p. 119, cited by Hans Toch in Geller and Toch (1996), p. 103.
126. David Lester compares this justification of the use of excessive force on certain "despicable" groups
to warfare, where the enemy is denigrated by derogatory terms and presumed to be morally and racially
inferior, Geller and Toch (1996), p. 183.
127. Barker and Carter (1994), p. 127.
128. See John Desantis, The New Untouchables (Chicago: The Noble Press, 1994), and Carl B. Klockars
in Geller and Toch (1996).
129. Desantis (1994) notes the Kevin Thorpe case in which prosecutors refused to subpena the most
credible witnesses in a grand jury indictment of several officers. The inaction resulted in a finding of "no
true bill" and the excessive force charges being dropped, p. 15.
130. The NAACP (1995), p. 75.
131. The first trial in the Rodney King case, and the Arthur Mcduffie case are two of the more well known
acquittals in cases that should have resulted in convictions. Both cases resulted in severe rioting.
132. Cheh, Mary M., in Geller and Toch (1996), p. 266-67.
133. Toch, Hans, Ibid., p. 104.
134. Adams, Kenneth, Ibid., p. 68.
136. Barker and Carter (1994), p. 276-80.
137. Bouza, Anthony V., in Dudley (1991), p. 78.
138. Owens, Tom (1994), p. 1.
139. Unidentified officer interviewed by John Van Maanen, cited by Charles E. Silberman (1978), p. 325.
140. Unidentified officer interviewed by Connie Fletcher (1990), p. 98-99.
141. Unidentified officer, Ibid., p. 43.
142. Miller and Hess Community Policing: theory and practice (St, Paul: West Publishing Co., 1994), p.
143. Owens, Tom (1994), p. 1; John DeSantis (1994) also addresses the prevalence of drug abuse, stating
that only two percent of regular field officers (candidates for promotion) must be tested for drug use.
144. Detective Ted O'Connor of the Chicago Police Department, cited in Connie Fletcher (1990), preface
145. Van Maanen, John (1974), p. 235, cited by Hans Toch in Geller and Toch (1996), p. 105.
THE USE OF EXCESSIVE FORCE
AND THE DENVER POLICE DEPARTMENT
The previous chapters have demonstrated the validity of
1) the use of excessive force by police in the'
United states is a relatively rare occurrence
when examined in the light of all police use-of-
2) because of the low standards utilized to
determine the use of excessive force (the Glick
and Graham standards) and the extremely violating
nature of excessive force, even relatively rare
occurrences should be considered problematic; and
3) the police subculture appears to promulgate many
of the instances of excessive force through the
prevalent "us v. them" mentality and adherence to
Remaining consistent with these findings, Chapter Four
will examine the Denver Police Department (DPD) to test:
(a) whether or not this city demonstrates a problem with
the police use of excessive force, and (b) whether the
department's subculture appears to cause most of its
officers' use of excessive force. To perform this test,
Chapter Four will look at Denver Public Safety Review
Commission reports, the Report of the Erickson
Commission, and media reports of several recent high-
profile cases in which it was alleged that Denver police
officers used excessive force.
Is .Excessive.Force a Problem in Denver?
1. The John Fell case. In 1993, a Denver police officer
chased a man across Cheeseman Park in his patrol car.
Upon catching up to the "skinny (expletive) faggot," the
officer hit the man with his car, knocking him onto the
hood and then to the ground where he was handcuffed. The
officer was then witnessed hitting and kicking the prone
suspect in the face, actions that appear to have
ultimately broken the man's jaw.1 2
2. The Brant Corder case. In early 1996, Brant Corder
was arrested by Denver police officers for disturbing the
peace. En route to the police station, Corder kicked and
cracked the rear plexiglass window of the police van. In
an apparent response to these actions, six officers