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Use of Force

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As part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, Congress obligated the Attorney General to “acquire data about the use of excessive force by law enforcement officers,” and “publish an annual summary of the data acquired” (see 34 U.S.C. §12602).

In 1995, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and BJS convened a Police Use of Force Workshop to discuss the associated data collection requirements of the Act. Challenges collecting valid and reliable of use of force statistics were discussed, including the specific identification and collection of excessive force data. Two data collection streams were developed from this effort: BJS and NIJ sponsored the International Association of Chiefs of Police National Use of Force Database Center (which produced the report, Police Use of Force in America, 2001) and BJS's Police-Public Contact Survey (PPCS).

  • Police-Public Contact Survey (PPCS)
    The PPCS is a national survey of the nature and characteristics of citizen contacts with law enforcement. Data are collected from a nationally representative sample of residents age 16 or older, and include information on contacts with law enforcement such as traffic stops, arrests, handcuffing, and incidents of law enforcement use of force.

Since 1995, BJS and other Department of Justice agencies have engaged in efforts to capture a broader understanding of law enforcement use of force. This includes the following projects:



Terms & Definitions

Deadly or lethal force

Force that a law enforcement officer uses with the purpose of causing, or that the officer knows to create a substantial risk of causing, death, or serious bodily harm.

Excessive use of force

The application of lawful use of force in too many separate incidents.

Non-deadly or less-lethal force

The level of force required to gain compliance that is not known to or intended to create serious bodily harm or death.

Use of excessive force

The application of force beyond what is reasonably believed to be necessary to gain compliance from a subject in any given incident.

Use of force

The amount of effort required by law enforcement to gain compliance from an unwilling subject.