Examining police use of force: A smaller agency perspective

William Terrill, Fredrik H. Leinfelt, Dae Hoon Kwak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


Purpose - This research seeks to examine police use of force from a smaller police agency perspective in comparison with what is known from previous research using data from larger-scale agencies. Design/methodology/approach - Using police use of force reports involving arrests (n=3,264) over a three-year period (2002-2004) from a small police agency located in the upper-Midwest, this study utilizes descriptive and multivariate analyses to examine how and why officers use force. Findings - While officers resorted to physical force (beyond handcuffing) in 18 percent of the arrest encounters, the majority of force is located at the lower end of the force continuum (e.g. soft hand control). However, unlike officer behavior, much of the resistant behavior displayed by suspects is toward the upper end of the spectrum (e.g. defensive/active). The results also indicate that the most powerful predictor of force is the presence and level of suspect resistance presented to officers. These findings are placed within the context of prior work. Research limitations/implications - Since the current study relies on official data from a single police agency, the findings come with caution in terms of generalizability. Originality/value - This study contributes to the literature on police use of force by examining everyday force usage in a small police department.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)57-76
Number of pages20
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Control
  • Crimes
  • Law
  • Policing
  • United States of America

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Public Administration
  • Law


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