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When Can the Police Use Force – and What Happens When They Do?

Publication Date

October 2016


National Policing Institute


The National Policing Institute has produced this Use of Force Infographic as a means of educating the public about when the police are allowed to use force and how those incidents are investigated. We found our task of making such a complicated issue easily understood through the use of an infographic to be a daunting one for a variety of reasons. America’s policing “system” is not actually a system. It is a collection of 50 different state laws bound together by U.S. Supreme Court decisions that try to clarify when the police can use force. To complicate matters further, each of the more than 17,000 independent policing organizations in this country has its own policies and procedures relative to investigating the use of force by its officers. And finally, our cultural, regional and political differences, and the differing mental models the police and the public have about the justified use of force, create emotionally charged debate.

Accordingly, this infographic is intended to provide the reader with a broad, high-level understanding of when the police use of force is legally viewed as reasonable and justified and how these incidents are generally investigated. There will undoubtedly be local differences, but this graphic follows the industry “best practices” wherever possible.

Recommended Citation

National Policing Institute. (2016). When can the police use force – and what happens when they do? [Infographic]. https://policefoundation.org/publication/when-can-the-police-use-force-and-what-happens-when-they-do/