What Is Police Brutality?

The various human rights violations imposed by police are referred to as police brutality. The United States Constitution entitles citizens to inherent rights. The rights include freedom from discrimination based on race, sex, national origin, and membership in other protected classes. These rights give American citizens the freedom of assembly, religion, speech, and freedom to petition the government. They authorize individuals to have the right to liberty, security, and the right to receive equal protection under the law.

The top priority of any Illinois state authority, including police officers, is to protect and respect every individual’s right to life. The unlawful use of force by police can cause injury and even death. This unlawful policing can also deprive individuals of their right to life. Any discriminative act, intentional tort, or threat of force or harm toward an associate of any protected class is a violation of the victim’s civil rights.

Violations of civil rights may include beatings, indiscriminate use of riot control agents during protests, racial abuse/profiling, torture, and unlawful killing. Violations also include any acts taking away from the granted freedoms every citizen is entitled to. No act should interfere with a citizen’s granted freedom based on age, disability, gender, national origin, race, or sex/sexual orientation.

Every individual should know what law enforcement officers are and aren’t allowed to do. There are a variety of occasions that lead to civil rights violations, but the most common claims filed based on police misconduct or abuse are:

  • Discrimination and hate crimes
  • Unlawful search and seizure
  • Unlawful restraint, or false arrest
  • Police brutality, including unnecessary tasing, or use of excessive or lethal force
  • Procedural due process violations
  • Sexual abuse or harassment

Should an individual fall victim to police misconduct, the offending party can be held liable for damages. Damages awarded may be injunctive relief or monetary compensation. Monetary damages recovered may include emotional injury (anxiety, depression, PTSD, etc.), humiliation and reputational harm, pain and suffering, medical expenses, lost wages, and compensation for confinement. Victims may also recover any out-of-pocket expenses, attorneys fees, legal costs, and punitive damages. A civil rights lawyer in Chicago can help victims receive the justice they deserve when they are denied their constitutional rights.

How Many Cases of Police Brutality Are Seen Each Year?

Police brutality is a known occurrence, but it often goes undetected and many victims do not receive justice. Police departments and their leaders will deny a blue code of silence within their departments, yet civil lawsuits involving corrupt officers are consistently being brought forth. 

Police Blue Code of Silence in Chicago

The police code of silence is used among police officers for varying reasons, often creating a bond of solidarity. Officers that go against the code of silence may fear punishment and retaliation. Forms of retaliation against reporting officers can include a lack of backup in dangerous situations and loss of promotional opportunities. Some of the most common police brutality behaviors protected under the code include aggravated battery, internal affairs, narcotic trafficking, racial prejudice, and sexual assault. 

Many governments are guilty of not collecting or publishing data on police misconduct and killings. This makes it hard to obtain reliable figures. A variety of sources state that around 1,000 victims were killed by U.S. police every year. The majority of all deaths involving police reported were the result of an officer using his or her firearm. In many cases, officers have shot victims multiple times. Such cases show an unnecessary and disproportionate use of force. In many of these cases, the victim was found to be unarmed.

Rates of fatal shootings by officers of the law vary greatly across different jurisdictions. Some departments are ten times more likely to be responsible for civilian deaths than others. These civilians are often within a minority group or are suffering from a mental health crisis.


Police violence has been greatly influenced by prejudice. Multiple sources found that in some circumstances, Black Americans contributed to only 13% of the population, but made up 24% of victims of police brutality. White Americans were killed by police at a rate of 15 per 1 million, Hispanic Americans at a rate of 28 per 1 million, and Black Americans at a rate of 38 per 1 million. Compared to their White American peers, Hispanics were about two times as likely to be killed by law enforcement and Blacks were more than two and a half times as likely. 

Not only are Black Americans more likely to be killed by police, but they are also more likely to be unarmed during the altercations. Police killings don’t just trend by race; they often trend by age and sex. Most victims of police brutality range between 20 and 40 years of age and are 95% more likely to be male.

What Are Some Common Causes of Police Brutality?

Police brutality and misconduct are a result of many factors. Beginning with the offending police officer, it often involves mental health issues and a range of organizational influences. Studies find that countries and territories with the highest rates of police brutality have one or more factors in common. These include inadequate laws for law enforcers, discrimination, insecurity or conflict, and immunity. 

Many police officers and police departments go unpunished for the unlawful injury or killing of individuals during a police interaction. Police and security forces have been found guilty of threatening the witnesses or survivors of the encounters. They are also often caught pressuring the victims to drop all charges against the police officer or department. Other circumstances may involve specific laws put in place to provide law enforcement with an exemption even when they may have acted against regulations. 

Individual-Level Issues

The mental health status of the offending officer may be a contributing factor to actions involving police misconduct. Higher levels of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) were found in officers who reported engaging in abusive practices. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder may cause some police officers to have a higher tendency of suspicion, a heightened startle response, and higher levels of aggression. Together, these can lead to an increase in the likelihood that an officer will overreact and use unnecessary or deadly force. 

Psychopathy is less common, but an officer with the disorder may exhibit traits of fearless dominance or coldheartedness. This makes the officer more likely to use excessive force or fail to follow police regulations. 

Personal problems law enforcement experience at home may also influence how the officer interacts with civilians. These issues may include family/relationship issues or other stressful life events.

Organizational-Level Issues

Organizational-level issues include any policy or working environment of a law enforcement agency that contributes to officers using excessive force. Police departments have been found guilty of setting limits that are too vague or lenient when force is used during interactions with civilians. This results in a greater number of officers using excessive force at their discretion. If excessive force is not punished or reprimanded within the department, officers are sent the message that it’s an acceptable practice within their job description. 

For the estimated 1,000 citizens killed in police shootings every year, roughly only 100 officers have been charged with murder (or manslaughter) and only 42 have been convicted.

The Impacts of Police Misconduct

Police misconduct not only affects victims and society as a whole, but it also impacts how criminal cases are handled. Defense attorneys have the task of forging reasonable doubt in the minds of the jurors. Any information obtained illegally may contribute to doubt in the minds of prosecutors, judges, and juries. Prosecutors are often presented with information on cases before any other party. In many cases, the police reports are the only set of information a prosecutor has to decide whether to pursue a legal case. 

Police reports may have limited information and can often be incorrect. These reports may contain administrative errors, officer bias, and even false witness statements. Should any allegations against a defendant be deceitful or false, defense attorneys may encourage their client to obtain an acquittal. 

Court proceedings can be costly, distressing, and unpredictable. If there isn’t enough evidence to prove police misbehavior, the defendant may be persuaded to accept a plea deal. Should the plea deal be denied, victims in this circumstance may be more likely to be found guilty of a crime.

An Exclusionary Rule is in place to prevent the prosecution from using illegally obtained evidence against the defendant. Illegally obtained evidence cannot be used in a court of law. This persuades police bureaus to guarantee their officers are abiding by constitutional guidelines when collecting evidence.

Can Police Officers Be Charged With a Crime?

Regardless of their law enforcement status, police officers can still face criminal charges. Federal law prohibits law enforcement from knowingly or willingly depriving individuals of their rights, and the states enforce criminal penalties for police misconduct. Prosecutors can file charges of assault, bribery, evidence fabrication, fraud, manslaughter, murder, theft, and witness tampering against officers. Prosecutors may also remove the officers in question from their position or revoke their policing licenses.

Filing Claims Against Police Officers

Under the Civil Rights Act of 1871, victims of police misconduct have the right to sue the offending officers. This Section 1983 lawsuit allows victims to seek financial settlements for their grief. This process is used to help prevent police misconduct and works to urge police divisions to provide their personnel with proper training. 

Although compensation is available to victims of police brutality, it may not always be received. Officers are often protected by qualified immunity, and it can be a challenging obstacle for victims to navigate. Qualified immunity is a theory that is used to shield law officials from accountability should they be forced to make swift decisions that are reasonable but found unjust. This protects officers from civil responsibility unless they intrude on a defined right. Unfortunately, rights violations are hard for victims to prove, which can provide law enforcement with protection against civil rights claims.

How to Help Prevent Police Misconduct 

State and federal courts may push for structural changes within a police department should the entity show patterns of police misconduct. These structural changes can include modifications to a department’s data collecting, internal investigation processes, procedures, rules, and training requirements. 

Police misconduct may be sanctioned administratively by citizen review and oversight boards, government agencies, municipalities, and police departments. Administrative penalties can include license revocation, internal affairs investigation, and citizen review. 

Before an individual may work as a police officer, the state must approve and certify him or her. The state can revoke the license given in situations of significant misbehavior. Police departments have the authority to launch an internal affair investigation to examine claims of police misconduct. Complaints can come from within the department or via public reports. If the claims are deemed factual, punitive action may be taken. 

Citizen boards were formed to investigate and oversee police departments that display patterns of misconduct. Often it is a result of the public worrying that their police force isn’t equipped to investigate their department thoroughly and honestly. Citizen reviews also improve public responsibility for police and their departments, increase openness regarding procedures, and reduce conflicts between law enforcement and the civilians they serve.

Victims of police brutality can prevent future acts from occurring by holding the offending officer and police department accountable for the damages caused. A lawsuit filed against the offender can draw public scrutiny to the police department and prevent the officer and his or her team from violating other citizens’ rights.

Dishonest actions of law enforcement risk the citizens’ faith in the legal system meant to protect them. It is of great importance to hold those guilty of police misconduct accountable for their actions. A Chicago police brutality attorney can help victims comprehend what constitutes a personal injury claim against an officer and assist in holding police accountable for their actions.

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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