A comparative study of Police’s use of minimal force in Singapore and the US that affects police legitimacy. (Sociology)

I took a module on Sociology of Deviance in my fifth semester of university. We had a group project where we had to analyse police legitimacy in Singapore and in USA. There were four of us and we each analysed a characteristic that affects police legitimacy. Mine was the use of minimal force and relate it to how it affects the legitimacy police experience in Singapore and in USA.


GRADE: B  (I can’t remember if it was B-, B or B+ so… but it’s the grade for the entire paper)

A comparative study of Police’s use of minimal force in Singapore and the US that affects police legitimacy.

One of the few strategies to ensure police legitimacy is through the use of minimal force. The police force’s ability to use force, even if fatal, is constitutionally mandated which is a privilege no other occupation has. The use of force must be justified by law and police officers must have legal ground to discharge force. When both aspects are met, the police force receives a great deal of legitimacy. A thorough analysis of the way in which the police in the US and in Singapore make use of this privilege can shed light on why Singapore has a higher level of police legitimacy.

Most typically police officers are expected to use the AOJP (Ability, Opportunity, Jeopardy, Preclusion) framework when deciding to use lethal force. The assailant must have the ability to cause harm to the officer. Having a weapon capable of inflicting lethal injuries satisfies the condition. Next, the assailant must have the opportunity to strike. Proximity, for example is important. If a knife wielding assailant is 100m away from the officer, there is no opportunity and not yet a need for the officer to draw his weapon. Once a weapon is drawn, the officer should only use it when he has reason to belief that his life is in jeopardy. A threat from a knife wielding assailant does not jeopardize the officer. However, the swinging of the knife does. But once the assailant walks away or surrenders, it is illegal for the officer to use force. Finally, even when the ability, opportunity and jeopardy conditions are met, an officer is only allowed to use deadly force when there are no other safe options left. If the officer can retreat he should do so. When an officer’s actions are questioned by authorities, he must prove that there was no other option than the use of deadly force to maintain his safety which is what is meant by preclusion.

With this knowledge, we can now analyze how well the two countries abide by this framework. Amnesty International reports that all 50 US states fail to meet standards necessary for legal use of deadly force. In 20 states, it is legally permissible for officers to use deadly force against convicts attempting to flee from prison even if they pose no threat. And only 8 states require their officers to issue a verbal warning before using force (goes against the concept of preclusion). By June 2015, it has also been documented that 515 people had been killed by the police with statistics revealing that blacks were twice as likely as whites to be unarmed and killed at more than twice the rate in fatal encounters. Use of deadly force evidentially seems unjustified and even has a racial discriminatory undertone to it.

In Singapore’s case, there has been a total of 6 fatal shootings and 4 non-fatal shootings by officers in the past 40 years with ethnicity having nothing to do with them. The suspects that were shot, were all armed with the exception of the latest victim. These suspects include a couple of fugitives who were on the run after killing a detective. Another tried to run over an officer. A few others lunged at an officer with a weapon. But in the most recent case of fatal shooting, a driver of a moving vehicle was shot at after he had ploughed through police barricades without heeding police instructions into an area with tight security. Even during the Little India riots of 2013 the Singapore Police Force (SPF) was praised for not using deadly force. In the US, however, officers of 9 states are legally allowed to use deadly force in riots. This evidentially shows that the SPF takes much more caution when using deadly force.

Although the minimal use of force that the SPF takes pride in suggests a greater legitimacy than the US, the differing weapon laws in the two countries must be taken into account. Firearms are a pervasive feature of the American society. A firearm puts an officer in immediate jeopardy as compared to a knife. Hence, in many cases, an officer in the US mistakes a civilian of carrying a gun and shoots the civilian in self defence. As such, even though the use of minimal force might provide the police with more legitimacy, the police force in the US are not in a position where they can afford to do so. In Singapore, however, firearms are controlled items and civilians rarely have access to them. This instantly allows the SPF to achieve more legitimacy as it restricts the use of deadly force since jeopardy and preclusion conditions become harder to satisfy. To subdue unarmed suspects, officers follow a framework starting with verbal command, and then unarmed tactics, and then the use of baton and/or tasers instead.

Therefore, it is good to note that the firearm laws of Singapore actually make room for the use of minimal force as compared to US, hence gifting her with more legitimacy.

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