About 44 million people age 16 or older had at least one face-to-face encounter with police each year on average between 2002 and 2011, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reported. About 1.6% of that group claimed that law enforcement officers threatened or used nonfatal force during the incident.
About 87% of residents whose police encounter involved nonfatal force said they believed police behaved poorly. However, 90% of residents whose encounters did not involve force said police acted properly.
The federal agency’s report looked at how often police were reported to have threatened or used nonfatal force and the circumstances behind those incidents. It also explored whether these factors varied across demographic groups. The authors used data collected by the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ Police-Public Contact Survey, which is said to be the only national source of information on the use of force by law enforcement officers.
The study defined nonfatal force as pointing a gun, cursing, shouting, grabbing or pushing, threatening force, hitting or kicking, or using pepper spray or an electroshock weapon. In the fraction of cases where residents reported the use of police force, more than 70% of those residents said the physical or verbal force was excessive.
African-Americans were 2.5 times more likely than whites and 1.7 times more likely than Hispanics to experience nonfatal force (or the threat) when encountering police, the study showed. African-Americans also were more likely to perceive the force as excessive.
More than half of in-person encounters (51%) involved stops initiated by police. People were more likely to face the threat or actual use of nonfatal force during a pedestrian stop versus a traffic stop, researchers found.
Overall, residents who experienced nonfatal force were more likely to have had multiple run-ins with police.
The November 2015 report, titled Police Use of Nonfatal Force, 2002-11, comes on the heels of months of nationwide protests against the use of force by law enforcement officers, including fatal shootings.
Researchers found certain demographic groups were more likely to experience nonfatal force during encounters with law enforcement, including men and individuals age 16 to 25. In addition, urban residents (2.1%) were more likely to encounter nonfatal force than residents of suburban (1.5%) or rural (1.2%) communities.