Police brutality has been a problem throughout the country for decades. As awareness of the problem grows, more police stations around the country are trying to do something about it.

One way departments are trying to address the issue is by using non-lethal weapons.

Are these tactics working, though? Or is the real problem that officers still do not understand when the use of force is absolutely necessary?

History of Police Brutality

Modern policing as we know it has only been around since the early 1800s. It was not until 1838 that the first police station was established in Boston. At that time, new European immigrants were the targets of harsh police tactics.

As African-Americans started fleeing the south at the same time, they too became the victims of the police brutality happening in the North.

At that time, lethal weapons such as guns were not largely used. Instead, police mainly used batons to apprehend and subdue suspects. Still, they used those clubs liberally.

Police brutality was already common practice, even though the concept of official policing was relatively new. Even at that time, police focused their brutality on African-Americans. During the 1920s, the problem became even worse.

Although African-Americans only made up 5% of the population in the North, they made up 30% of the victims of police killings. At that time, President Hoover created the National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement. This organization investigated prohibition-related crime. They also investigated incidences of police brutality.

A spotlight was being shed on use of excessive force by police, although the racial disparity associated with it was not specifically addressed. The fact that African-Americans seemed to be the target of so much police brutality was one focus of the protests during the Civil Rights Era of the 1960s. At that time, there was much unrest throughout the country, despite the fact that the leaders of the movement called for peaceful protests.

In 1967, an African-American cab driver was beaten to death by police in Newark. After that incident, President Lyndon Johnson created the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders. The purpose of that organization was to investigate the cause of the many riots taking place around the country.

The Commission found that in half of the riots studied, police actions were the root cause. The Commission also identified segregation and poverty as factors contributing to police brutality. It called for eliminating social inequalities and helping those in low-income households find proper housing. President Johnson ignored the recommendations of the Commission.

For decades, police brutality continued. It garnered national attention again in 1991, with the brutal beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles. Four police officers swarmed on King, and beat him in the street, hitting him more than 50 times with batons.

King survived the beating, and the officers involved were charged, but acquitted of the crime. The public was outraged by the decision, and riots soon broke out once again.

Today, police brutality is still a big problem. The use of social media and technology such as dash cams has helped bring more incidences to light, creating more awareness about the problem. As such, many police departments are trying to come up with alternatives, such as non-lethal weapons, that could help curb the problem.

Non-Lethal Weapons

When many people think of police officers, they often associate them with guns. However, firearms were not used in police departments until the late 1800s, decades after the first department was formed. At that time, criminals were arming themselves with lethal weapons. Police departments needed a way to appropriately respond to them.

Today, police departments across the country are trying to focus once again on non-lethal weapons. The hope is that this will help stop police brutality, while still allowing officers to do their job. Even non-lethal weapons though, still cause serious injuries.

Researchers have found that when police use force, 17 to 64% of civilians involved sustained injuries. Only 10 to 20 police were injured in use-of-force events. Most of the injuries were minor and included minor bruising, abrasions, and sprains and strains. When use-of-force resulted in serious injuries, dog bites, puncture wounds, broken bones, internal injuries, and gunshot wounds were the most common.

By turning to non-lethal weapons, police departments around the country hope to reduce the amount of injuries seen.

The use of non-lethal weapons is nothing new, though. During the Los Angeles riots in the 1960s, police were already using pepper spray, tear gas, bean bag rounds, and rubber bullets. Although non-lethal, there are still problems with these weapons.

  • Pepper spray disperses in the air, which can hurt innocent bystanders.
  • Tear gas can cause blindness.
  • Even bean bag rounds and rubber bullets are only effective at close range, and can ricochet and hit individuals nearby.

Today, most of the non-lethal weapons used are tasers. In recent years, these have become the non-lethal weapon of choice for police departments. Some argue that they are even better than firearms because they stop a suspect immediately. Guns on the other hand, may impair a suspect but sometimes they still get away.

Are Non-Lethal Weapons Working?

So, with the advance of non-lethal weapons, the question still remains: Are they working?

It is hard to tell.

Police departments around the country are not required to report police shootings to the FBI. As such, it is unclear whether or not shootings are going down. It is also unclear whether or not non-lethal weapons are the reason for any reduction in police brutality events.

Some experts do expect Tasers to replace firearms in the future. That may very well happen, since police officers seem to prefer these weapons to firearms. In the meantime, the best way to prevent fatalities and injuries is simply to better educate and train officers on when the use of force is actually necessary.

Have You Been a Victim of Police Brutality? Contact Our Pennsylvania Excessive Force Attorneys

If you or a loved one has been the victim of police brutality in Pennsylvania, it is important to understand that you have rights. At Abramson & Denenberg, P.C., we are the Philadelphia excessive force attorneys that stand up for the rights of victims. We will hold police departments accountable for their actions, and fight to get you any compensation you deserve.

Call us today at (215) 475-5431 and learn more about how we can help with your case.

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