Levels of nonlethal force: an examination of individual, situational and contextual factors

Policing: An International Journal

ISSN: 1363-951X

Article publication date: 7 March 2008



Lytle MS, D.J. (2008), "Levels of nonlethal force: an examination of individual, situational and contextual factors", Policing: An International Journal, Vol. 31 No. 1. https://doi.org/10.1108/pijpsm.2008.18131aae.001



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Levels of nonlethal force: an examination of individual, situational and contextual factors

Brian A. LawtonJournal of Research in Crime and DelinquencyVol. 44 No. 22007pp. 163-184

Lawton (2007) examined police use of force in Philadelphia, PA. The author attempted to test part of Black’s theory of law and Klinger’s ecological theory of police behavior. Lawton (2007) analyzed 747 reports of police use of force incidents during the 2002 calendar year. Lawton (2007) hypothesized that:

  1. 1.

    the location of the incident of use of force will impact the level of force used during the encounter (to apply Klinger); and

  2. 2.

    incidents in primarily minority areas will have a greater amount of force applied than incidents in non-minority areas (to apply Black).

Lawton (2007) used Hierarchical Linear Modeling (HLM) to analyze his data. The source of the data for the analysis is self-reports on use of force incidents from the Philadelphia police department.

Lawton’s (2007) measured use of force using a four-point continuum scale:

  1. 1.

    control hold;

  2. 2.


  3. 3.

    oleoresin capsicum spray or TASER; and

  4. 4.


The author notes that this scale is a departure from more recent studies on use of force because in previous studies this scale would have been one category. He also measured other officer characteristics including: previous force (dummy coded as force in the previous year or not), officer tenure (measured as the number of years on the police force), officer gender, and officer race (dummy coded as African American or non-African American). Lawton’s (2007) citizen measures included: citizen gender, citizen race (dummy coded as African American or non-African American), citizen intoxicated, citizen drug use, citizen mental status, and citizen resistance (dummy coded as citizen resisted with a weapon or not). He also recorded incident specific variables including whether multiple officers were present at the incident and type of offense (Part I or Part II offense). Lawton (2007) controlled for the violent crime rate and heterogeneity of the incident location at level 2.

Lawton’s descriptive analysis revealed that the most common form of force was the use of a control hold (47.9 percent). The next most common form of force was use of oleoresin capsicum spray or TASER (30.1 percent) followed by baton (11.2 percent) followed by a strike. He also found that the most common officers types involved in an incident were white, male, officers that have about 9 years of experience. The type of citizen most commonly involved in an incident are male, African-American, and involved in a Part-I crime.

Across all HLM models, officers involved in a use of force incident in the previous year were more likely to use greater force in the current incident. Lawton (2007) found that impaired citizens, those on drugs or those with abnormal mental status, were more likely to have greater force used against them. Citizens suspected of committing a Part I offense were found to have greater amount of force applied to the situation. The presence of multiple officers mitigated the level of force; in incidents where multiple officers were present, less force was applied. Lawton (2007) failed to find support for contextual variables in all models. Violent crime rate and the amount of heterogeneity did not significantly impact use of force. Additionally, race, gender, and resistance measures had no impact on use of force.

Lawton (2007) failed to support Black’s theory of law and Klinger’s ecological theory of police behavior. Lawton (2007) found no support of Black’s assertion that law will be applied in greater amounts to minorities. While descriptive results indicated that minorities were involved in more use of force incidents, when controlling for other factors race was not significant. Lawton (2007) also found no support for Klinger’s theory because none of the ecological factors achieved statistical significance.

Daniel J. Lytle MS University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, USA

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