Training for Law Enforcement Personnel

Limitations On and Alternatives To The Use of Force, Other Than Deadly Force, By Law Enforcement Personnel

Use of force by law enforcement personnel in the defense of self or another, to effect an arrest, to protect the subject from injury, to remove the subject from the scene or to accomplish another necessary and appropriate law enforcement action where no less intrusive remedy is available is a legitimate and lawful use of force. It is always a last resort however to accomplishing a legitimate police purpose.

In the defense of a charge of excessive use of force, the officer must be prepared to state the nature and extent of the force used to accomplish the police action, what alternatives to the use of force were available, the likely outcome if force was not used, what instructions were given to the subject prior to the use of force, whether the subject was informed that force was going to be used, and if not why not; the apparent mental state of the subject; actions taken prior to force being used; the result of the use of force on achieving the goal of the police action; the actions taken by the officer after the application of force; the injuries sustained by any person party to the use of force; any medical care provided any party to the use of force; the identification of any witnesses who can testify to the actions of any party to the use of force prior to, during and after the use of force was employed; the nature and extent of the training in the use of force provided to the officer; the kind of weapons if any in the possession of the subject; the level of hostility, if any, expressed by witnesses during the application of the use of force; the nature and extent of any prior contact between the police officer and the subject; any record of the subject’s proclivity to violence; any previous use of force confrontations between the officer and other members of the community and any other issues mitigating against the use of force or militating for force under the circumstances.

Engaging in unnecessary or excessive force by a police officer is more often than not the result of poor judgment by the officer rather than an intentional abuse of authority. Caught off guard by a subject’s apparent threatening words or conduct, the actor is often prone to employ the most rather than the least aggressive posture. In some instances, what is found at the scene results in a conclusion that force has already been used by the subject or is imminent, a determination made based on the presence of an injured party, the possession of what appears to be a weapon, the level of the discourse, or a misunderstanding of the nature of an apparent dispute. These factors coupled with the time of day, the location of the confrontation, and other aggravating factors at the scene, can result in a quick and often wrong conclusion that the immediate use of force, other than deadly force which has its own required characteristics, is both appropriate and necessary.

With the advantage of hindsight, more of the elements that supported the use of force on the scene become less compelling, and the charge of unnecessary or excessive use of force becomes difficult to defend against.

By breaking down the elements required for the use of force by a law enforcement officer, officers can learn to instantly evaluate whether the threshold for the application of force has been met. By applying that analysis to a given situation, officers become better able to determine the relative importance of what they see and hear in determining when force is necessary to achieve a desired goal or prevent a dangerous result.

By reversing the process which the officer has concluded has risen to the level where force is the logical and appropriate last resort, officers learn that most situations in which the application of force becomes necessary are the result of a number of hierarchical acts each of which raised the intensity of the friction between the officer and the subject. By eliminating the intensity of the friction where possible, the confrontation can often be de-escalated and brought under control without force.

The training takes the officer sequentially through all of the encounters that have transpired since her arrival on the scene. The officer recalls her state of mind when she first witnessed the subject and analyzes her preliminary responses to the scene. She takes into consideration the actual level of violence and the presence of any weapons upon her arrival. She determines whether her goal is to disperse, arrest, assist or terminate the confrontation immediately. She considers how to avoid unnecessary confrontations and whether any de-escalation is possible. She considers ways to gain compliance without the employment of force if possible under the circumstances.

In circumstances requiring the application of force against the subject, the officer evaluates the level of force available to him and which he feels will best achieve his goal with the least amount of physical force necessary. In making this determination, the officer tries to evaluate the nature and extent of the resistance which will be employed against him and what will be needed to overcome it inflicting the least amount of harm on the subject while risking the least chance of injury to him. As conditions change, the officer is prepared to increase or decrease the amount of force necessary for a conclusion which is satisfactory for him.

It is the goal of the training to arm the officer with the confidence to handle certain confrontational situations where a satisfactory conclusion can be achieved with out applying physical force and without exposing the officer or a third person to an unacceptable risk of harm. In situations where the use of some level of force less than deadly force is the only reasonable action, it is the goal of the training to prepare the officer for the application of a reasonably determined level of force necessary to terminate the aggressive conduct of the subject without inflicting unnecessary injury on the subject or exposing the officer to unnecessary harm.