Throughout the National Consensus Policy on Use of Force, the procedures state officers should only use force when absolutely necessary.
Ideally, officers will be able to defuse a situation without resorting to deadly force.
The procedures specify officers should only use the amount of force necessary to bring the situation under control, prevent harm to the officer, suspect, or bystanders.
The scale of force
The procedures outline the steps an officer should take before escalating the use of force:
The procedures say that “whenever possible and appropriate” officers should use de-escalation tactics before resorting to force.
They also specify that officers should give the suspect “time and opportunity to submit to verbal commands” before using force.
But they do provide some exceptions: when a delay would risk safety, escape, crime, or the destruction of evidence.
This section is especially notable because many of the groups involved in creating this consensus policy were among those who pushed back on the Police Executive Research Forum’s “30 Guiding Principles on Use of Force.”
Many of PERF’s suggestions emphasized de-escalation techniques, and some agencies protested that de-escalation is not always practical.
In a joint statement, the IACP and FOP wrote, “We cannot reasonably expect law enforcement officers to walk away from potentially dangerous situations and individuals in the hope that those situations resolve themselves without further harm being done.”
But, former IACP President Terry Cunningham, who originally gathered the 11 agencies for the consensus document, told The Washington Post that the group decided de-escalation should be part of the policy. Ultimately, he said the group agreed “if we have the opportunity to de-escalate, we should.”
If de-escalation techniques don’t work or aren’t appropriate for the situation, the procedures allow for the use of “less-lethal force.”
The policy defines less-lethal force as “Any use of force other than that which is considered deadly force that involves physical effort to control, restrain, or overcome the resistance of another.”
Officers are authorized to use less-lethal force to bring a situation under control, protect themselves or others from harm, or restrain someone who is resisting arrest.
The procedures justify the use of deadly force in two situations:
- The officer believes himself or others to be at risk of death or serious injury.
- A subject is fleeing, and the officer has probable cause to believe the subject has killed or seriously harmed someone and may do so again if not caught right away.
Along with specifying when deadly force is justified, the procedures also place restrictions on using firearms and deadly force.
- When possible, officers should warn suspects they intend to use deadly force.
- Officers shouldn’t use deadly force against suspects who are only a threat to themselves.
- Warning shots should have a defined target and should only be used when deadly force would be justified.
- Officers should only used chokeholds in situations where deadly force is justified
The procedures also provide strict guidelines for shooting at or from a moving vehicle.
According to the policy, law enforcement should train officers on use of force at least annually.
Training should include de-escalation techniques, simulated shooting situations, and opportunities for officers to practice using less-lethal and deadly force.
What it Means for You
The National Consensus Policy on Use of Force is a great reference point for reviewing your agency’s use of force policies. Agencies can use the model policy as a starting point for crafting their own.
But every agency is different, and agency leaders will need to adapt policies to fit their organization.
As you craft policies that fit the needs of your law enforcement agency, PowerDMS can help you easily collaborate on revisions. PowerDMS provides a one-stop-shop for your policy management needs, allowing you to distribute policy updates to every officer with just the click of a button, then track engagement and collect electronic signatures.
PowerDMS also simplifies the training process by letting you create customized online classes for redundant material.
This lets officers spend less time in the classroom and more time receiving the hands-on training they need to effectively handle use of force incidents.