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Examining police use of force: a smaller agency perspective

William Terrill (School of Criminal Justice, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, USA)
Fredrik H. Leinfelt (North Dakota State University, Fargo, North Dakota, USA)
Dae‐Hoon Kwak (School of Criminal Justice, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, USA)

Policing: An International Journal

ISSN: 1363-951X

Article publication date: 7 March 2008




This research seeks to examine police use of force from a smaller police agency perspective in comparison with what is known from previous research using data from larger‐scale agencies.


Using police use of force reports involving arrests (n=3,264) over a three‐year period (2002‐2004) from a small police agency located in the upper‐Midwest, this study utilizes descriptive and multivariate analyses to examine how and why officers use force.


While officers resorted to physical force (beyond handcuffing) in 18 percent of the arrest encounters, the majority of force is located at the lower end of the force continuum (e.g. soft hand control). However, unlike officer behavior, much of the resistant behavior displayed by suspects is toward the upper end of the spectrum (e.g. defensive/active). The results also indicate that the most powerful predictor of force is the presence and level of suspect resistance presented to officers. These findings are placed within the context of prior work.

Research limitations/implications

Since the current study relies on official data from a single police agency, the findings come with caution in terms of generalizability.


This study contributes to the literature on police use of force by examining everyday force usage in a small police department.



Terrill, W., Leinfelt, F.H. and Kwak, D. (2008), "Examining police use of force: a smaller agency perspective", Policing: An International Journal, Vol. 31 No. 1, pp. 57-76.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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