Excessive force is one of those legal terms that is hard to pin down exactly. It is not a measurable number. And how it is determined varies widely from court to court and case to case.

But we recognize it when it happens to us, right?

Was the amount of force justified?

Excessive force occurs when police cross the line of what’s reasonable and necessary to keep the peace. Adrenaline plays a significant role in the level of violence in any police action.

It is essential to the idea of policing that law enforcement officers provide muscle to stop crimes and apprehend wrongdoers. They are also allowed under the law to protect themselves.

But this permission to use force is not a green light to beat on people and cause them serious physical harm. Then the police have crossed the line into excessive force, also known as police brutality.

A sliding scale for justifiable force

Most offenders are not violent, so they require little force to arrest them or manage their actions. Excessive violence in such a situation might be minor, a push or slap. If the offender is dangerous or armed or out of control, the courts will give police much greater latitude to subdue you.

Excessive force is an issue very much on people’s minds. Police today are increasingly afraid of being assaulted themselves. One sign of this fear has been police forces arming themselves with military weapons.

Nearly everyone has a smartphone to document abuses. People involved in public dissent rightfully complain that police had no need to get physical with them.

The bottom line is that excessive force cases hinge on multiple factors. In all cases, a knowledgeable lawyer is indispensable to a just outcome.