The purpose of this paper is to gain insight into the type of force that is most frequently used by Belgian police officers in their daily activities, and to examine the individual and contextual triggers that result in using force.
First, the results of an online survey of police officers in three Belgian local police zones are presented. Second, qualitative data are used to gain more insight into the factors, individual as well as contextual, that influence the decision to use force.
The survey results indicate that the officers in the sample rarely use force. When force is used, the type of force used is typically situated on the lower end of the continuum (verbal and physical force without a weapon). The interview data suggest that suspect resistance, the behaviour of the suspect in general and the character and personality of the police officer have an influence on the use of force.
The authors conclude that police officers should be provided not only with training on typical situations, but also with training to handle unpredictable cases, as well as individual coaching and aftercare. Increased transparency and reporting of the use of force and evolutions thereof could provide basic information to develop training, coaching and aftercare.
Although there has been plenty of academic attention given to the factors that determine proper use of force by the police, most research in this field is based on police experiences abroad (such as in the USA).
The authors would like to thank the local police forces and all police officers who were willing to cooperate with both studies, and the students who carried out the interviews with them (Ann De Buck, Silke De Vogelaer, Juline Deseyne, Yinthe Feys, Kaat Goossens, Anja Hermans, Anne Koeleman, Fien Orbie, Daan Robbrecht, Ine Rotsaert, Yorick Standaert and Maartje van Poppel). The authors wish to expressly thank them for their efforts. The authors also would like to thank the Research Foundation of Flanders (FWO) and the anonymous reviewers whose suggestions and insights for the paper were invaluable.
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