ViolenceReducing Inappropriate Use of Force by Police

Published 23 April 2021

A new report outlines policy and procedural recommendations for reducing use of inappropriate police force from behavioral and social science experts. “There is a crisis in the United States and beyond right now with respect to relations between police and the communities they serve,” says one of the report’s authors. “Large scale efforts thus far to improve these relations have failed and it is time for a new set of strategies based on behavioral and social science.”

A new report from the Police Violence Commission of the International Society for Research on Aggression (ISRA) outlines policy and procedural recommendations for reducing use of inappropriate police force from behavioral and social science experts.

The panel of experts, chaired by Paul Boxer, a Professor of Psychology at Rutgers University-Newark whose expertise lies in the development and management of aggressive behavior, especially in high-risk environments, includes leading scholars from across the United States and Germany. SASN Department of Psychology’s Luis Rivera, an associate professor with expertise in implicit bias, and Kaylise Algrim, a doctoral candidate in Boxer’s lab, are among the group.

The report looks at the inappropriate use of force by police from the perspective of behavioral and social science inquiry related to aggression, violence, and intergroup relations. Researchers examined use of force in the context of research on modern policing as well as critical race theory and offered five recommendations suggested by contemporary theory and research. The panel’s recommendations are aimed at policymakers, law enforcement administrators, and scholars.

“There is a crisis in the United States and beyond right now with respect to relations between police and the communities they serve,” states Boxer. “Large scale efforts thus far to improve these relations have failed and it is time for a new set of strategies based on behavioral and social science and taking into account the broader environment of systemic bias against minoritized populations, including the de-militarization of the police.”

The five recommendations made by the group include:

1. Implement public policies that can reduce inappropriate use of force directly and through the reduction of broader burdens on the routine activities of police officers.

2. For officers frequently engaged in use-of-force incidents, ensure that best-practice, evidence-based treatments are available and required.

3. Improve and increase the quality and delivery of noncoercive conflict resolution training for all officers, along with police administrative policies and supervision that support alternatives to the use of force, both while scaling back the militarization of police departments.

4. Continue the development and evaluation of multi-component interventions for police departments, but ensure they incorporate evidence-based, field-tested components.

5. Expand research in the behavioral and social sciences aimed at understanding and managing use-of-force by police and reducing its disproportionate impact on minoritized communities and expand funding for these lines of inquiry.

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