Statistics on the Use of Force

The public constantly scrutinizes police officers. Episodes where police engage in excessive use of force have been well publicized in the media. Television shows regularly portray excessive use of force. Widespread media attention to these events unfortunately conveys the impression that rates of use of force, or excessive use of force, are much higher than what actually occurs.

Studies on police use of force have revealed the following:

  • Among all calls for service, force was used by the police less than 1 percent of the time, according to a study examining police use of force in 1999 and 2000 [1].
  • The complaint rate for police use of force was 6.6 complaints per 100 sworn officers, according to a study of large law enforcement departments. Of these complaints, 92 percent had insufficient evidence to take disciplinary action against the officer [2].
  • While police use of force is rare, various definitions and measures of force prevent researchers from definitively identifying the frequency of events that may be defined as justified or excessive [3].


[1] International Association of Chiefs of Police, 2001. Police Use of Force In AmericaView an abstract of this report. 

[2] Hickman, M.J., 2006. Citizen complaints about police use of force: Organizational, administrative, and environmental correlates. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Criminology, Los Angeles, CA, November 1, 2006.

[3] Alpert, G.P., and Dunham, R.G., 2004. Understanding Police Use of Force: Officers, Suspects, and Reciprocity. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Date Created: August 4, 2009