U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Police Use of Force


SATURDAY NOVEMBER 22, 1997          202/307-0784


     WASHINGTON, D.C. -- An estimated 45 million
United States residents--one in five--have some
sort of face-to-face contact with law
enforcement officers annually, according to a
new Justice Department study.  Among those with
such contacts, a third seek police help or offer
assistance.  Another third witness a crime or
report a crime to law enforcement officers.  A
little less than a third said the police
initiated the contact.  About 1 percent of those
who came in contact say police used force or
threatened to use force against them, although a
majority of those respondents say their own
actions may have provoked the police.
     The report, which provides the first-ever
national estimates of the different types of
police-citizen contact, was based on a survey of
6,421 people 12 years and older.  The study was
based on a sample of United States residents
selected to represent the entire population.
     The Police-Public Contact Survey found
about 23 percent of males, 19 percent of
females, 22 percent of whites, 16 percent of
blacks and 15 percent of Hispanic residents had
some sort of  contact with law enforcement
officers during a 12-month period ending in mid
     Persons in their twenties were the most
likely to have such contacts, while those aged
60 or older were the least likely.  Only
Hispanics and people younger than 20 reported
that the police initiated the contact more often
than they did.
     Fourteen respondents of the 6,421 people
questioned, representing approximately 500,000
residents nationwide, said police officers
either warned them that force would be used or
actually used force.  Ten of the 14 also
reported that some of their own actions, such as
threatening the police or resisting being
handcuffed, may have provoked police.  The small
numbers (7 of the 1,086 whites with police
contact, 2 of the 97 blacks and 4 of the 74
Hispanics) made it impossible to reliably
compare the use of force against persons of
different racial or ethnic backgrounds.
     Only four of the 6,421 respondents said
they had experienced force or the threat of
force from the police, and according to them,
had done nothing to provoke it.
     The data were generated through a special
set of questions asked of household residents as
part of the Department's annual National
Criminal Victimization Survey, released on
November 19.
     "These results come from a survey pretest
that consisted of a small sample, but they are
of sufficient interest that BJS intends to
incorporate these questions in the full crime
victim survey," noted BJS Director Jan Chaiken.
     According to the survey, the reason for the
police-public contact most often cited was for a
civilian to report a crime.   Based on the
survey answers, BJS estimated the following
number of police interactions with the public:
  I reported a crime     . . . . 12.7 million 
  Police ticketed me 
    (one or more times) . . .    10.9 million
  I asked police for help  . .   10.1 million
  I had a casual encounter 
    (with police) . . . . . . .   8.0 million
  I reported a problem . . . .    7.9 million
  I was the victim of a crime.    6.8 million
  I was in a traffic accident     5.5 million
  I witnessed a crime  . . . .    3.5 million
  Police asked why I was there    2.7 million
  Police suspected me of a crime  2.6 million
  I attended a community meeting .2.4 million
  I witnessed an accident  . . .  2.3 million
  Police had a warrant 
     for my arrest . . . . . . .  0.5 million
  Some other reason    . . . . . 14.0 million

     The report, "Police Use of Force" NCJ-165040, 
was jointly published by the department's 
Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS)
and National Institute of Justice (NIJ), the
Justice Department's research arm.  It was
written by BJS statisticians Lawrence A. 
Greenfeld, Patrick A. Langan and Steven K. Smith
with assistance of Robert J. Kaminski, NIJ. 
Single copies may be obtained from 
the BJS fax-on-demand system by dialing
301/519-5550 or calling the BJS Clearinghouse at
1-800/732-3277.  BJS's home page address on the
Internet is:                    
     Additional criminal justice materials can
be obtained from the Office of Justice Programs
homepage at:

After hours contact:  Stu Smith at 301/983-9354

Date Published: November 22, 1997