Using Law as Social Control: Applying Black's Theory of Law to Predict the Presence of a Legal Response to Police Use of Excessive Force

Allison Chappell, University of Florida

Most of the previous literature on police use of excessive force focuses on individual officer deviance, victims of excessive force, and perceptions of misconduct. However, there is a gap in the literature concerning the discipline of police officers. This research intends to examine how the structure of a police department influences the likelihood of law being used as a method of social control at the organizational level. Donald Black's theory of law provides a framework with which to analyze this issue. His theory posits that law varies with the stratification, morphology, culture, organization and other social control within an organization. The purpose of the paper is to examine the impact of these variables on the legal discipline of police officers. Data from "Police Use of Force: Official Reports, Citizen Complaints and Legal Consequences, 1991-1992" will be used to test Black's propositions. The data provide a nationally representative organizational-level sample of 1,697 police departments. The implications of this research for the police literature and for Black's theory will be discussed, as well as recommendations for future research.

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Updated 05/20/2006