Law enforcement officers have a responsibility to protect and serve the public, but they have to balance that obligation with the need to do their jobs safely. The state authorizes them to detain people and to use physical force when necessary to protect themselves and others against an imminent threat of harm.
A police officer’s authority to use physical force to detain someone or intervene in a situation in which someone’s life might be at risk is crucial to their ability to do their job. Unfortunately, police officers sometimes become too aggressive and violent during interactions with members of the public. According to a recent review of fatal police interactions, New Mexico has a serious issue with police officers using too much force.
What does the research show?
Being in a situation where one has to engage the risk they face and the risk of others in an instant is not easy. Police officers need to be as pragmatic as possible, as the rules that allow them to use force generally require that they scale the degree of force involved in the interaction to the seriousness of the threat posed by the individual.
The use of lethal force is only appropriate in scenarios where officers reasonably fear for their safety or believe that someone poses an immediate threat to others. Unfortunately, quite a few people die during interactions with police officers in New Mexico. Many others may end up with serious physical injuries and also psychological trauma after a police officer becomes unnecessarily physically aggressive during an arrest. In 2022 alone, there were 32 people killed by New Mexico police officers. That puts New Mexico in second place across the country for fatal police encounters based on population.
People can fight back after civil rights violations
The use of excessive force during an arrest is one of many ways in which police officers can violate the civil rights of an individual. Both those physically injured by a police officer using an inappropriate amount of force and those who lose a loved one in what they believe was an inappropriate police shooting may have grounds to pursue justice in the civil courts.
Holding individual officers or police departments accountable for excessive force can both compensate those affected by police brutality and help change the culture of law enforcement in New Mexico.