How Does Police Brutality Affect Society?

“How does police brutality affect society?” is a question that everyone should ask, especially considering the many cases of violent police interactions that have increasingly been reported in Chicago and nationwide in recent years. Police brutality imposes significant direct and indirect costs to individuals and society, including health problems, increased population-specific mortality rates, lower academic achievement, higher protest participation, distrust of the criminal justice system, and long-term financial and economic strain. Read on for a closer look at these and other effects of brutal law enforcement tactics.

Police Brutality in Illinois

Illinois has a notorious reputation for police brutality cases. But what is police brutality? Police brutality is used to describe various types of misconduct by police officers. Excessive force, false arrest, unlawful seizure, excessive taser usage, strip search, sexual assault, and other conduct that’s excessive considering the circumstances are examples of police brutality. Allegations that have been found to commonly appear in police brutality lawsuits in Illinois include false arrest, excessive force, malicious prosecution, and illegal seizure.

Police in Illinois have been recorded strip-searching and beating residents. The number of police brutality cases in the state has been growing over the years. An analysis of use-of-force tracking by the Chicago-based Invisible Institute suggested there was frequent underreporting of the use of force against civilians.

The state’s record of police brutality settlements has been costly. According to the Washington Post, Chicago alone has spent nearly $528 million to resolve police brutality allegations within the past decade. Children and youth have also been victims of police brutality. Roughly one out of every 10 police misconduct lawsuits settled between 2012 and 2015 in Chicago involved someone below the age of 18.

Impact of Police Brutality on Society

Police brutality is a public health concern, with accumulating evidence showing it to be linked to a variety of health outcomes. Mental health symptoms are experienced more often in neighborhoods where police abuse is more common. Victims, their families, and bystanders are often psychologically scarred by the events. Exposure to police violence has been associated with greater odds of attempting suicide among adults. Recent analyses suggest the problem extends to adolescents.

Multiple studies have associated negative police encounters with issues like:

  • Generalized anxiety
  • Depression
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Mood disorders
  • Psychotic experiences
  • Self-reported suicidal ideation

Distrust and Strained Relationships Between Communities and Law Enforcement

The police are supposed to be trustworthy sources of safety and protection. Incidents of police brutality shatter this belief. The public views the police as a threat to be addressed rather than protectors.

When people don’t trust the police, they’re less likely to call on them in times of need. Consequently, fewer people report safety threats and crimes. Examination of data from eight American cities showed a sharp decrease in 911 calls and a 50% drop in civilian reporting rates immediately after the police killing of George Floyd. The effects persisted for the rest of 2020, and there’s little evidence to suggest that there was a reversal after the conviction of his killer. The effects are reflected across both non-white and white neighborhoods.

There’s a deep distrust of police among minority communities that have long been victims of police violence, such as Latinos, Black Americans, and Muslims. That makes many minority communities underutilize the police due to their reluctance to call them for assistance. A 2013 University of Illinois and PolicyLink study found that 32% of Latinos born in the U.S. and 50% of Latinos born outside the country preferred to tell a community or church leader about a crime than the police.

Social, Economic, and Legal Consequences

Police brutality affects the society socially, economically, and legally. Studies have shown police brutality to cause fatal injuries that raise mortality rates, particularly in ethnic minorities, physiological responses that lead to illnesses, stressful public reactions, arrests, imprisonment, and financial strain from funeral, medical, and legal bills.

Economic Security

Police encounters that cause injury, incarceration, or death exacerbate poverty among children. Children can have a void in their lives when police violence destroys family structures. One study found a family’s income to be 22% lower during incarceration periods and 15% lower during a parent’s reentry. Another study found absenteeism to increase after police killings occur in their communities.

Students living close to where police killings occurred experience GPA decreases that persist for several semesters. Police brutality has lasting effects on children, with them being found to be 3.5% less likely to graduate high school and 2.5% more likely to skip college.

Police brutality impacts a child’s ability to concentrate, attend school, and be successful.

Protests Against Police Brutality

Thanks to the widespread use of smartphones and rapid dissemination of information and video footage, a lot of public attention and outrage has been directed toward police brutality. Incidents of police brutality have sparked citywide and nationwide protests. For example, the police killing of George Floyd led to protests in more than 100 cities nationwide. These protests have been condemning and challenging the tactics used by law enforcement officials and systemic racism, and calling for police accountability and a massive overhaul of the policing structure.

Property Damage and Loss of Businesses

Communities also pay the price for protests against police brutality due to the disruption to commerce and traffic and the costs incurred to deploy additional officers at the demonstrations. Some protests turn violent, sometimes due to the police escalating conflicts. Such demonstrations have involved looting, destruction of property, and even death, further widening the gap between law enforcement agencies and the community.

Financial Burden to Cities and Taxpayers

Cities pay out millions of dollars in police brutality cases. Settlements are often funded by taxpayers. Officials borrow millions to pay for police misconduct lawsuits, adding to the cities’ debts and increasing the cost to taxpayers for the settlements. For example, an analysis of Chicago data showed taxpayers paid $280 million to resolve police misconduct cases from 2019 to 2023.

Efforts for Change and Reform in Illinois

The prevalence of police brutality in Illinois and the wave of public attention it’s received has ignited ongoing efforts to change the way the police operate and maintain a robust accountability system.

Community-Led Initiatives Promoting Police Accountability in Chicago

The Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability (GAPA) was established in 2016 to improve police practices, accountability, and the relationship between the Police Department and the community. It comprises several community organizations. The Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA), a civilian oversight board, was created in September 2017 to investigate patterns of police misconduct and provide recommendations to the department.

The City of Chicago instituted a Community Working Group comprising 20 community members to review the Police Department’s use of force policies. Several other organizations, such as the Rainbow Push Coalition, Invisible Institute, and Chicago Aldermanic Black Caucus, have also been bringing in community input and collaboration to push for police and justice reforms and accountability.

Policy Changes, Police Reform Bills, and Legislative Efforts

A 2017 investigation that found police officers routinely violate the rights of Black and Latino Chicagoans prompted court-ordered reforms. The consent decree that was instituted in 2019 as a result of the investigation requires the publishing of annual litigation reports and a warning system that enables the early flagging of police officers named in lawsuits involving misconduct. The consent decree also compels the Police Department to change how it trains and supervises officers.

The Illinois Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity-Today (SAFE-T) Act was signed into law in January 2021. The Act introduced sweeping police reforms, among them:

  • Requirement for every officer in Illinois to be equipped with a body-worn camera
  • Expanded grounds for statewide decertification of officers for misconduct
  • Provision of new standards for when police can use force
  • Enhancement of the accessibility of data on misconduct
  • Removal of the requirement of officers under investigation to know the names of the complainants or officers in charge of the investigation

Awareness Campaigns

Awareness campaigns are also being used to help reduce police brutality in Illinois. Following the consent decree that took effect in 2019, the Chicago Police Department, with the help of the Office of Community Policy, instituted an awareness campaign that would be conducted at least once a year to inform the public about policies regarding police interactions, steps for filing complaints, and their rights when stopped or arrested.

Several organizations, such as the ACLU of Illinois and the Chicago Appleseed Center for Fair Courts, have carried out campaigns to raise awareness of the recent legislative efforts and their impact and the steps people can take to achieve police accountability.

Awareness campaigns and other efforts for change and reform help Illinois citizens understand the causes and effects of police brutality, what cops can and can’t do in Illinois, and the legal rights they can exercise when treated abusively. Besides compensating for the physical and emotional pain that victims suffered, settlements and jury awards in police brutality cases also force city officials to take action against misconduct.

Chicago personal injury and workers’ compensation attorney Howard Ankin has a passion for justice and a relentless commitment to defending injured victims throughout the Chicagoland area. With decades of experience achieving justice on behalf of the people of Chicago, Howard has earned a reputation as a proven leader in and out of the courtroom. Respected by peers and clients alike, Howard’s multifaceted approach to the law and empathetic nature have secured him a spot as an influential figure in the Illinois legal system.

Years of Experience: More than 30 years
Illinois Registration Status: Active
Bar & Court Admissions: Illinois State Bar Association, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois, U.S. District Court, Central District of Illinois
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