Exploring police use of force decision-making

K. Hine1*, L. Porter2, N. Westera3, G. Alpert4

1 Griffith Criminology Institute, Griffith University
2 Griffith Criminology Institute, Griffith University
3 Griffith Criminology Institute, Griffith University
4 Griffith Criminology Institute, Griffith University

*corresponding author: kelly.hine@griffithuni.edu.au

Police-citizen encounters that involve the use of force require officers to make quick decisions during dynamic situations.  If too much force is applied, dire consequences such as fatalities, community unrest and rioting can result. Conversely, if appropriate force is not applied, the situation can escalate placing officers and the community at risk of harm.  This study aims to gain a clearer understanding of how such difficult decisions are made in such difficult situations in order to provide officers with optimal information to best prepare them for situations that potentially require force.  Specifically, this study explores the factors officers are considering when making force decisions, as well as the decision-making process and aspects that impede this.  Debriefs between police trainers and 85 recruits were recorded after scenario-based training exercises and content analysed.  During debriefs, recruits were asked to explain their decisions during the scenario.  Results are discussed with reference to the recruits’ decision-making factors, processes, and impediments.  While recruits noted a variety of factors, most commonly they noted suspect characteristics and situational factors.  Recruits expressed both intuitive and analytical decision-making styles and a number of physiological, sensory, and cognitive impairments to their decision-making process.  The findings of this study contribute to police policies and procedures to help inform best practice methods in areas such as training to better prepare officers for decisions about force.


Kelly Hine is a Doctoral Candidate at the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Griffith University and associated with the Griffith Criminology Institute.  Her doctoral research investigates police use of force and decision-making to identify the most beneficial information that can be provided to police officers, prior to and during a police-citizen encounter, in order to be best prepared for decisions involving force.

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