Fears of Excessive Force and Confidence in the Legal System Vary by Race: Survey

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By Javier Lavagnino, Esq. on April 07, 2009 2:47 PM

A survey conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center indicates that the public's perception of various aspects of the legal system varies, sometimes widely, by race.

On the bright side for law enforcement, the majority of all races surveyed indicated that they had "a great deal" or "fair amount" of confidence that their communty's police officers would do a "good job enforcing the law". On the other hand, the extent of people's confidence, as well as those feeling they had "just some or very little" confidence in the police, did vary by race. For example:

  • 78% of whites had confidence police would do a good job, while 20% had reservations.
  • Comparatively, 61% of Hispanics had high confidence, and 36% lacked the same.
  • Lastly, only 55% of blacks were confident, and 37% were far less so.
  • However, when the topic turned to the use of excessive force by police on suspects, the results were shockingly different:

  • 73% of whites felt that police officers would not use excessive force on suspects, while 21% felt otherwise.
  • Just 46% of Hispanics felt police would not use excessive force, while a slightly greater number (47%) felt they would.
  • Even worse, blacks who felt police would not use excessive force were outnumbered by a 48% to 38% margin.
  • The use of excessive force by police is a violation of a suspect's Constitutional rights and can result in a civil rights lawsuit. For those wondering what exactly constitutes an "excessive" amount of force, the answer is that it varies depending on the circumstances. In general, it would be force that exceeds the amount reasonably necessary to accomplish a legitimate police goal.

    Establishing a case of excessive force in court can sometimes be challenging because of the degree of difference between police officers' and suspects' recollections and perspectives in an incident. Police are also entitled to a degree of immunity by law, unless they are shown to have acted in a fairly outrageous manner.