The study of police use of force remains a primary concern of policing scholars; however, over the course of the last several decades, the focus has shifted from deadly and excessive force to a broader range of police behaviors that are coercive in nature, but not necessarily lethal, violent, or physical. The purpose of this paper is to highlight the critical disjuncture between the conceptualization of police use of force and operationalizations of the construct throughout policing literature.
The current study provides a thorough, systematic review of 53 police use of force studies published in peer-reviewed outlets. These manuscripts were reviewed to determine whether authors cited a conceptualization of use of force and explained how the construct was operationalized, as well as the police behaviors captured in measures of force across studies, and how the data were collected.
The findings suggest that police use of force is conceptually ambiguous, as 72 percent of the studies failed to cite a conceptual definition of the construct. Moreover, there is little consistency in the types of police behaviors operationalized as force across studies.
The authors illustrate that problems associated with poorly conceptualized constructs make it more difficult for researchers to interpret empirical findings. That is, conceptual ambiguity has resulted in a line of literature that includes inconsistent and contradictory findings, making it difficult to summarize in a meaningful way and inform policy.
Frank Klahm IV, C., Frank, J. and Liederbach, J. (2014), "Understanding police use of force: Rethinking the link between conceptualization and measurement", Policing: An International Journal, Vol. 37 No. 3, pp. 558-578. https://doi.org/10.1108/PIJPSM-08-2013-0079Download as .RIS
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