Date of Graduation

5-2015

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Public Policy (PhD)

Degree Level

Graduate

Department

Political Science

Advisor

Valerie Hunt

Committee Member

Brinck Kerr

Second Committee Member

Patricia Koski

Keywords

Social science; Less lethal weapons; Officer decision making; Police / citizen encounters

Abstract

Law enforcement officers expect to be issued the most effective less lethal weapons to stop the escalation of force. At the same time, citizens expect law enforcement officers to utilize their training and skills to resolve situations with the least amount of force possible. This research project attempts to answer the following research questions: (1) What weapon, short of lethal force, is most effective in stopping the escalation of force? (2) What factors do officers take into account in choosing a particular weapon and why? The study results may assist local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies and policymakers in three ways: (1) inform them of the most effective less lethal weapons that stop the escalation of force; (2) make suggestions for policy revisions and develop new policies for less lethal equipment implementation; and (3) identify those decision making variables that officers use or do not use as part of their perceptual shorthand. The focal concerns perspective and street-level bureaucrat theories guide the theoretical framework. The focal concerns perspective draws from Steffensmeier's work from the 1980's and expounds upon the work done by Skolnick (2011) by providing evidence of the factors that officers use as their perceptual shorthand. The research findings also build upon the street-level bureaucrat construct in that they show evidence of the high level of discretion each officer possesses when they are involved in a use of force incident. Data are collected from a sample of 113 "Use of Force Reports." The method of force (weapon) was recorded for each suspect involved in the use of force incident. Also, the dependent variable, whether the method chosen was effective or ineffective, was recorded. A mixed methods approach using the convergent triangulation strategy is employed. The qualitative section employs semistructured interviews with officers. The analysis suggests that two weapons, the TASER and hands-on tactics, were most effective in stopping the escalation of force. The qualitative analysis produces a list of factors that affect decision making including: age (only including the cases of extremely young or old), stature/condition of the suspect, call type, prior knowledge of the suspect, gender, and proximity. Recommendations for future research are also discussed.

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