HomeOpinion & AnalysisSundayOpinion: No law sanctions police brutality

SundayOpinion: No law sanctions police brutality


There is so much wrong thinking in this statement, both factual and professional, that it is hard to know where to begin.
OK, let’s start here. By “minimum force in investigations” the policeman is presumably referring to the all-too-commonly reported practice of assaulting suspects while they are in custody to force a confession.

Where in law does it say police are “allowed” to do this? The Criminal Law Code says in section 89 that “any person” (which includes police officers, since they are persons) who assaults another person intending to cause bodily harm (defined in section 88 as pain or discomfort to the body) is guilty of assault and liable to a fine of $5 000 or imprisonment for up to 10 years, or both. The Code doesn’t say police are exempt from this law.
In professional police work, investigation of crimes involves questioning suspects, not assaulting them. You talk to witnesses. You record statements from them. You collect physical evidence at the scene of the crime. You carry out inquiries in the neighbourhood. You gather background information. By clever questioning, you identify inconsistencies in the suspect’s statement and show that once he gets to court, the magistrate will weigh up the various statements and evidence and, probably, find him guilty of the crime and send him to jail. You indicate that if he confesses, he may get a lighter sentence.

You use psychology. But you most certainly do not assault a suspect to coerce a confession that is unlikely to stand up in court on its own anyway. You’re supposed to be a police officer, not a mafia enforcer.

When a suspect is unable to walk into the courtroom, or can only limp in great pain, because the bones in his feet have been broken while a confession was forced from him, how can any self-respecting police officer claim to be a professional? That is nothing less than state torture.
It is in such circumstances that the courts will order investigations into police brutality. Magistrates know this is wrong behaviour by the police. They know that you are supposed to investigate first, then arrest. They know you are not supposed to detain, then assault, then force a confession. They know that under assault, people will eventually confess to anything to stop the pain. That doesn’t make them guilty. If police are being trained to assault suspects, and being told that this is “allowed by law”, they are being wrongly trained. If police are being permitted or encouraged by superior officers to assault suspects, they are being led wrongly.

The doctrine of minimum force in police work relates specifically to maintaining public order, particularly in crowd control.
The doctrine of minimum force is very specific. Here are the principles to be applied when a large group of persons — usually much larger than the number of police trying to control them — refuses to disperse when instructed to do so by the police, who are responsible for maintaining public order.
Force should not be used to punish.

It should be used only to prevent further immediate trouble.

It should be the minimum force needed to achieve the police goal.

It should be discontinued as soon as the police have achieved that goal.

From these principles it should be clear even to the most dense that police are not “allowed” to use minimum force.  Instead they are required to use the minimum force necessary, instead of the maximum force.

Inappropriate use of force irretrievably damages the relations between police and public. Has that already happened here? Many people apparently distrust and despise the police as brutal. You can hardly expect them to report their experiences to co-workers of the very people who brutalise them. So they don’t go to police stations. They withdraw psychologically. The police may think that through brutality they are winning the war on crime. But they may have already lost public approval, public respect and public co-operation.

Without public approval and co-operation, the police eventually cannot police a society.   If the police don’t already know this, then they are not paying attention.

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