Fear is one of the most common contributing factors to negative encounters with law enforcement officials. Many officers have an inherent racial bias that they do not acknowledge or consider before engaging with the public. That lack of self-awareness can lead them to take actions when interacting with people of color that they would never take during an interaction with a white member of the community.
Understanding when police can reasonably use force and how to gauge what amount of force is appropriate can help you determine if law enforcement behaved in an inappropriate manner. It can also raise questions of whether institutionalized racism plays a factor in the ongoing issues that people of color face when dealing with law enforcement.
The amount of force should never exceed the level of threat presented
The most common sense standard for determining the appropriate use of force is whether the amount of force reflects the actual threat presented by the individuals involved in the situation. Police need to look at the severity of the alleged offense, as well as the immediate situation of the individual they approach or stop when determining what level of force is reasonable.
An officer physically engaging with someone who has not made any kind of verbal or physical threat against another person could be an example of unnecessary force. Physically attacking someone who is only accused of failing to use a turn signal, for example, would be a situation in which the level of force exceeds the threat created by the initial offense.
Unfortunately, individuals whose racial heritage includes anything other than solely European ancestors are often at increased risk for police officers treating them as a dangerous threat regardless of the situation they find themselves in.
Officers can cause physical and emotional damage
Excessive force can leave physical and emotional wounds, especially if the situation involves children. A recent case out of Arizona saw police officers draw weapons and point them at parents in their twenties because their 4-year-old daughter unwittingly stole a $1 toy from a local store. That is a clear example of a situation in which the level of force used in the response by law enforcement did not appropriately reflect the danger of the situation, which was minimal if it existed at all.
When law enforcement officers use too much force, they can cause severe physical injuries including death to the person they interact with. The potential also exists for serious emotional or psychological damage to the individual involved in the interaction. Officers can leave people with post-traumatic stress disorder and other serious issues such as anxiety due to their inappropriate handling of an interaction.
If unnecessary police force left you physically wounded or emotionally traumatized, you may be able to seek compensation under Colorado law.