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Changes in officer use of force over time: a descriptive analysis of a national survey

Bruce Taylor (Police Executive Research Forum, Washington, DC, USA)
Geoffrey Alpert (Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Colombia, University of South Carolina, Colombia, South Carolina, USA)
Bruce Kubu (Police Executive Research Forum, Washington, DC, USA)
Daniel Woods (Police Executive Research Forum, Washington, DC, USA)
Roger G. Dunham (Department of Sociology, University of Miami, Miami, Florida, USA)

Policing: An International Journal

ISSN: 1363-951X

Article publication date: 31 May 2011




Few studies track non‐lethal weapon use by law enforcement agencies (LEAs), the number/level of force used by these agencies, complaints for excessive force, and injuries to officers and suspects, both over time (especially recently) and with a national probability‐based sample. This study aims to address these gaps by developing longitudinal estimates to examine these use‐of‐force issues.


Two surveys of LEAs were conducted (n=518 and n=357 LEAs), covering 2003 to 2008, and statistical weights were used to align the data to be representative of all state and local LEAs in the USA, including adjustments for survey non‐response.


Conducted energy devices (CED) deployment has risen significantly (to about 70 percent of LEAs). However, standard baton use is down to 25 percent in 2008 and when available to the officer, batons are more likely to be left in their vehicles compared to CEDs. Baton use and empty‐hand tactics are becoming less commonly used by officers, but CED use was ranked among the most used tactics from 2005 to 2008. Excessive force complaints against LEAs, internally generated, have more than doubled from 2003 to 2008. Officer injuries varied little from 2003 to 2008, but they are still only about half as common as suspect injuries. Also, only 20 percent of LEAs collect injury data in a database, complicating future research.


This is one of the few studies to track, nationally, the types of non‐lethal weapons in use by LEAs, and force level used, providing aid to LEA executives and policymakers who need to follow new trends in non‐lethal weapons.



Taylor, B., Alpert, G., Kubu, B., Woods, D. and Dunham, R.G. (2011), "Changes in officer use of force over time: a descriptive analysis of a national survey", Policing: An International Journal, Vol. 34 No. 2, pp. 211-232.



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