Police Use of Force and Injury: Multilevel Predictors of Physical Harm to Subjects and Officers

Published date01 September 2021
Date01 September 2021
Subject MatterArticles
Police Use of Force
and Injury: Multilevel
Predictors of
Physical Harm to
Subjects and Officers
Matthew J. Hickman
Jared N. Strote
, Robert M. Scales
William S. Parkin
, and
Peter A. Collins
The police must on occasion use physical force and weapons in order to apprehend
and control subjects and fulfil the police function. It is inevitable that some of these
interactions will result in injuries to both subjects and officers, with a range of both
tangible and intangible harms and costs. It is therefore important to study injuries
related to the use of force with an eye toward identifying opportunities to minimize
injury and reduce the harms and costs. Injuries to both subjects and officers were
examined in a sample of more than 10,000 use of force incidents drawn from 81
agencies located in 8 states. In addition to describing injury rates across a broad
spectrum of situational and agency characteristics, we present multilevel logistic
regression models predicting subject and officer injury. Among key findings, we
report that the likelihood of injury for both subjects and officers is lower when
force incidents end quickly and with the minimal necessary superior level of force
relative to subject resistance, and higher for both subjects and officers when subjects
flee. At the agency level, we find that the likelihood of injury varies by agency size and
Department of Criminal Justice, Seattle University, Seattle, Washington, United States
Department of Emergency Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, United States
Police Strategies LLC, Seattle, Washington, United States
Corresponding Author:
Matthew J. Hickman, Department of Criminal Justice, Seattle University, 901 12th Avenue, Seattle, WA
98122, United States.
Email: hickmanm@seattleu.edu
Police Quarterly
2021, Vol. 24(3) 267–297
!The Author(s) 2020
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1098611120972961
type. Finally, we explored possible higher-level variation and found that agencies in
the sample from Midwestern states (primarily Wisconsin) have substantially lower
injury rates that appear to be associated with their less frequent use of weapons and
greater reliance on low-level physical force tactics, as compared to agencies in the
sample from Western and other states.
use of force, injury, force factor, multilevel model
The United States has entered an era of heightened attention on police behav-
iour, particularly with regard to the use of force. This was prompted in
large part by several high-prof‌ile deaths of minority citizens during 2014 and
2015, growing citizen outrage most notably manifest in the #BlackLivesMatter
movement, as well as additional controversial deaths of minority citizens.
The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing was empanelled in late-
2014, and the Task Force conducted meetings and listening sessions, followed
with reports identifying six broad areas of needed reform (President’s Task
Force, 2015). Since that time, the attention on police behaviour has arguably
broadened from the use of force to a more general focus on both racial inequi-
ties in policing and a perceived lack of meaningful legal constraints on police
behaviour. We are also witnessing renewed focus on an old problem, the lack of
information (Fyfe, 2002; Hickman & Poore, 2016; Kane, 2007), and the growth
of open-source data collection (The Guardian, 2016; The Washington Post, 2020)
as well as new Federal data collection efforts (Federal Bureau of Investigation,
2018). In the scientif‌ic realm, epidemiologists and health policy scholars have
increasingly focused on police use of force as a public health problem (e.g.,
Cooper et al., 2004; Obasogie & Newman, 2017). In the popular realm,
YouTube videos depicting a broad range of negative police-public interactions
are endemic (Brown, 2016).
As disturbing as these interactions may be, they underscore a reality of polic-
ing in the United States as it is presently structured and practiced. The core
function of the police is to maintain order and enforce the law while preserving
individual rights, but it is through the exercise of their coercive authority that
they ultimately achieve those democratic goals. While the police perform many
complex and important roles within the communities they serve, the single def‌in-
ing characteristic of the police is their capacity to both verbally and physically
coerce individuals to do things that they are not otherwise inclined to do,
particularly those individuals who are not obeying the rules (Bittner, 1970).
Sometimes, the police must use physical force to protect citizens and themselves,
or to apprehend criminal subjects, and we expect police off‌icers to rely on their
268 Police Quarterly 24(3)

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT