Abuse of Power Within the Police by Susan Bright.

This excellent article was taken from Micheal Doherty’s website JusticeNow 


Guest Writer – Susan Bright RGN, BSc (Hons) (Nursing practitioner) [Name changed to protect identity]

Society grants police officers enormous power over citizens to enable them to keep the peace and to preserve social order. They are granted a great deal of freedom to use their judgment regarding which laws to enforce, when and against whom. This wide range of options and authority can lead to the abuse of their power.

Some police officers come to see themselves not as simply enforcers of the law, but as the law itself. The average citizen knows very little concerning the officers’ limits of power, and upon being ordered to move on, often enforced by a push and the threat of arrest, seldom stops to question the legality of the action. This submissiveness on the part of the public has rendered the police, particularly in large cities, arrogant and brutal, these supposed conservators of the peace are in my view frequent law-breakers.

It is a frequent tactic of an abuser to remind his victim that it is within their power to deprive that person of their liberty, personal safety, security, privacy etc. Most abusers, when making such threats are not confident of the backing of the criminal justice system though, abusers within law enforcement are. For a case in point see the recent expose on a Gloucestershire Police officer threatening to arrest a photographer and make his day “living hell’


For some officers, their identity is defined by their uniform, they consider themselves as being on duty at all times. Whether it be in personal or professional situations, any conflict or resistance is perceived as a challenge to their dominance or authority and often becomes personal. There is no room for negotiation or to hear the opinions of the arrestee or witnesses, there is only right and wrong, they are right you are wrong.

Domestic violence and police

This may explain why reports of domestic violence involving police officers is so high. Police officers are trained to lie and deceive; they may be required to adopt a false persona such as that of a hit man or drug dealer in order to detect crime, (entrapment). They are also trained to physically overcome an alleged assailant, without causing injury. Perhaps the purpose of this is to prevent any visible injury and avoid any criminal accountability for themselves, rather than out of concern for the wellbeing of a suspect.

Is it any wonder with such trained traits, incidents of domestic abuse/violence against partners  indicate that police families are 2-4 times more likely than the general population to experience domestic violence”?

An increasingly violent police service?

Officers are taught to use a continuum of force i.e as little force as necessary in order to restrain a person and bring the situation under control, starting with basic techniques and only escalating the force when met with violent resistance and a lack of compliance. However it is frequently being reported that violent measures are being used from the outset, often a baton strike or being slammed to the floor is just the start.

Another frequent complaint by those arrested is the use of handcuffs as a weapon, in the wrong hands fixed handcuffs (usually Hiatt) can and do cause considerable injury including nerve damage, bruising, lacerations and fractures. Such injuries usually occur as a result of them being too tight, being twisted or being used to drag the person wearing them. It is not the cuffs themselves, (although they are brutal in that they are heavy, rigid and sharp), but the intention of the officer applying them to cause deliberate injury. Many people report the failure to “double-lock” these devices as per policing procedure, causing them to increasingly tighten against the detained’s wrists. The pain from these handcuff devices can be excruciating.

Relationships with partner agencies

Police officers work within the criminal justice system and have contacts with related multi- disciplinary agencies such as social service providers, medical providers, victim advocates, prosecutors, court and security personnel. They have established an relationship with staff working within these agencies and are often on first name terms, a rapport has been built over time and with this an element of trust.

Therefore, it is perfectly understandable that an officer would be secure in the knowledge that he would be believed by these people over a suspect, this situation also gives him further control and an unfair advantage. According to many people I have spoken to including serving police officers and having witnessed several instances myself, it is not uncommon for police officers to deliberately provoke a person to verbally or physically lashing out in order to justify an arrest. They will also do this to suspects in their custody, often taunting and ridiculing in order to further humiliate them, more so if there is someone present they wish to impress.

Abusing the elderly

One example of this occurred in a local A&E department, when two burly male officers attended to remove an elderly, intoxicated man. The man had not been violent or even verbally abusive, in fact he was in rather good spirits and was working his way through his vast repertoire of ‘old crooner’ numbers, however he had been discharged and was reluctant to leave, choosing instead to entertain both staff and patients.

The police had been contacted with the request that he be spoken to and encouraged to make his way home. What happened next was certainly not what had been expected and left many staff shocked and upset. The two young, handsome officers came swaggering down the corridor and stopped to chat to a couple of young female nurses they knew to get further details regarding the incident. One nurse pointed out the man and the officers walked briskly over, knocked him to the floor, handcuffed him and dragged him up to his feet.

The man seemed shocked and confused, but then continued singing to them. He told the officers he had recently lost his wife to cancer. It must have then occurred to him that this was serious and he began to weep, pleading with the officers to let him go home to his cat, that he had meant no harm to anyone. A Dr intervened and told the officers that this was not necessary and that the man had done no harm and just needed encouragement/assistance to go home.

Despite this the man was half dragged, half carried out of the department, sobbing and crying out in pain, it was deeply traumatic and extremely unnecessary, a total abuse of power no doubt intended to impress the young nurses. People should be fully protected from the abuse of power at the hands of the police. My experience tells me for the most part, they are ignorant with a thinly disguised propensity for violence. That when placed in positions of seemingly high authority are often disposed or tempted to disregard and abuse the very laws they should uphold. If resisted, they often become the accusers and the sole witnesses.

Their power should be carefully confined to the preservation of the public peace, and any attempt to go beyond this limit should be promptly and severely punished. Citizens should pursue offenders by way of complaints to the appointing powers, by criminal prosecutions and civil suits for damages. The law is on their side, and with determination, much can be done to address and rectify such abuse of power within our police force.

[Susan is a registered and practicing Nurse, who has extensive experience in both Accident and Emergency Dept and working for the police in the criminal justice system with offenders. She was also for sometime married to a serving police officer]

If you wish to write a guest piece for JusticeNOW please email your contribution toinfo@justiceNOW.co.uk for consideration

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