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Police use of force continuum (courtesy

Republished with permission from the Force Science Institute:

In a possible preview of coming attractions for other agencies, the police department in a major US city recently proposed radical changes to its use-of-force policies. That move torched a firestorm of protest from the rank-and-file. At this writing, a vigorous tug-of-war is underway to get the proposed alterations modified before they are finalized. But the changes as originally described offer a clear insight into issues that are likely to be raised elsewhere as the movement to change police practices gathers steam . . .

In tone and detail, many of the intended changes mirror the recommendations for overhauling American policing put forth earlier this year by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), which we’ve covered in several recent issues of Force Science News.

The intent, said the city’s police chief and the president of its Police Commission in announcing the revisions, is to “fundamentally re-engineer the way police officers use force” and thereby “save lives.”

But a former deputy city attorney for that municipality, who in the past has defended the agency and its personnel against excessive force claims arising from officer-involved shootings, has asserted in response that some aspects of the “hastily enacted” proposals could have “disastrous and unintended consequences” if left uncorrected.

And the president of the Police Officers Assn., representing the department’s patrol and investigative forces, charged that some of the would-be changes “appear to be at odds with federal and state law and longstanding precedents and best practices.” Adopted as initially drafted, he said, they “could lead to citizens being further endangered and officers exposed to additional harm.”

He added, “The POA was taken aback [that] we were never consulted” in the initial formulation of the intended revisions. Creators of the proposals in turn promised that input from “interested stakeholders,” including “front-line officers,” “civil libertarians,” the general public, and the federal DOJ will be solicited before the alterations are locked in.


According to the PD’s chief and the Police Commission president, the proposals grew from a collaboration of law enforcement officials and black activists after the controversial fatal shooting last December of a 26-year-old man who had randomly stabbed a stranger on a city street.

Hopped up on meth and other drugs, the knife-wielding suspect refused repeated commands to drop his weapon when surrounded by responding officers. Taunting an officer to use his “motherfucking” gun, the subject doggedly resisted pepper spray and beanbag rounds before multiple officers fired on him, inflicting some 20 wounds.

The current city attorney ruled the shooting justified, but the suspect’s family filed a federal civil rights suit. The PD quickly initiated some “immediate” changes in officer training and dug into crafting a “new vision for the department,” anchored to major alterations of its General Orders regarding use of force, particularly deadly force.

In a joint announcement of the resulting proposals, the chief and the Commission president claimed last month that by getting officers to emphasize “time and distance,” de-escalation, “sanctity of life,” “thoughtful communication,” and a “proportional” use of force, the department “can fundamentally re-engineer policing” and reduce officer-involved shootings by “up to 80 per cent.” This will save lives and be “good for everyone,” they insisted.

The POA president fired back with a 20-page critique of the proposed revisions, characterizing them as having been “written in a bubble,” shielded from the “dynamic, fast-paced, and constantly evolving” realities of force incidents. He included results of an online membership poll showing that over 97% of respondents are “not satisfied” with the proposed UOF revisions and their “unreasonable and flawed language.”

Also included were detailed, critical analyses of the proposals from two use-of-force experts: A police defense lawyer, who served 22 years as a deputy city attorney for the municipality, including nine years as chief of the civil rights litigation team, and a police trainer for nearly five decades, who has trained some 45,000 LEOs, has testified as an expert witness (both for and against officers) in over 600 cases, and has played a major role in shaping the state’s POST instructional materials on firearms, arrest-and-control tactics, and use of force.

Here are a few of the key elements addressed which reflect the flavor of what one critic terms a “novel approach” to UOF policy:


A major concern of the position papers challenging the intended changes centers on one of the factors that the proposed General Orders listed in describing what constitutes a “reasonable” use of force. To be considered reasonable, the draft Order stated without further definition:

“Any force should be proportional to the severity of the offense committed for which the officer is taking action…. It is critical officers apply the principles of proportionality when encountering a subject who is armed with a weapon other than a firearm, such as an edged weapon, improvised weapon, baseball bat, brick, bottle, or other object.”


“I’m not even sure what that means or how an officer is to make that determination,” the long-time trainer wrote. He said the language suggests that a force encounter “needs to be a ‘fair fight’–that [an] officer can no longer present a show of force sufficient for the suspect to know that resistance is pointless.

“For example, instead of multiple officers attempting to subdue a resistant individual, under this policy only an officer of similar size and physical skills can intervene.”

The police attorney called the lack of definition “deeply concerning,” and added that the “proposal could suggest that ‘proportional’ means that officers are required to match the degree of force being used by the suspect. In other words, if an officer is being threatened by a knife, the maximum force the officer can use in response is a knife–even though officers are not equipped with knives and are not trained on how to use them.”


The critics were also disturbed by another “extremely important” omission. The existing department policy specifically underscores the critical Graham qualifier that the reasonableness of an officer’s use of force “should not be judged based on 20/20 hindsight.” Crafters of the new policy “inexplicably” took that language out.


To the police attorney, the removal “suggests that it was intentionally omitted with the objective of making [this] the only city in the country where an officer’s use of force can now be analyzed based on 20/20 hindsight”–“a radical change [that] could have undesirable implications for officer training and accreditation under POST.”


In stressing a dominating commitment to de-escalation, the proposed policies stated that when a non-compliant subject is “not actively endangering safety, fleeing, or destroying evidence, officers should employ techniques to decrease the likelihood” of having to use force. These would include building rapport via “thoughtful communication” with “the proper voice intonation” and tactically repositioning “as often as necessary” to maintain a protective “reaction gap” between officers and suspect.


“This sounds good on paper but on the streets it will unnecessarily expose all parties to increased danger,” the POA president argued. The obligation to constantly reposition to accommodate the suspect’s movements “implies a duty to retreat that is not consistent with [state] law nor case law. It is inherently dangerous, it compromises officers’ ability to contain suspects, and it increases suspects’ opportunities to escape, assault officers, or attack civilians or take them hostage.”


The proposed policies as drafted require that when officers view or are dispatched to “a subject with a weapon, a supervisor shall immediately…remind responding officers, while en route, to protect life, isolate and contain the subject, maintain distance, find cover, engage in thoughtful communication without time constraint, and call for appropriate resources.”


“This is potentially dangerous to civilians and officers because in the 10-15 seconds in which the supervisor would clog the airwaves with this generic announcement, the officer on the scene would have been prevented from conveying critical information, such as ‘shots fired’ or ‘officer down’ or calling out the direction the suspect has fled,” the police attorney stated. “Requiring a supervisor to reiterate general policies in the heat of action accomplishes little or nothing.”

“If the department would simply apply this idea to a few real-world scenarios, it would see how disastrous it could be,” the veteran trainer noted.

The POA president pointed out that some of the content of the message is questionable. For instance, “current training involves [officers] ‘moving to contact’ active-shooter suspects without delay. It seems contrary to every recent study to have officers ‘finding cover’ and ‘engaging in thoughtful communication’ when…children are actively being slaughtered in a school.”


In the union president’s words, the new regulations as proposed would establish “clearly a policy of prohibition” so far as shooting at a suspect in a moving vehicle is concerned. The only stated exception would be if an occupant “poses an immediate threat” of death or serious injury “by means other than the vehicle” itself.


This “categorical ban,” wrote the police attorney, “prevents an officer from shooting at the driver…even if there is no means of retreat [and] the officer or bystanders will likely be killed if the officer cannot shoot, [and] where there is substantial risk that the driver will cause death or serious injury to others if allowed to escape.”

For example, he stated, “if an individual were driving around [the city] in an SUV, running over pedestrians for fun,…under the proposed policy [an] officer would be required to hold his or her fire….” The proposed policy, POA president charged, “turns a vehicle into a safety zone for violent felons….”

In the trainer’s expert view, “a motor vehicle driven at an officer or civilian is lethal and should be dealt with like any other lethal force threat.”


Among many restraints on the use of controlled energy weapons listed in the proposed changes, two drew heavy fire: A prohibition on using a CEW on an unarmed subject, and on using the device in drive-stun mode.


Why? the union president asked. “If an officer or a citizen is being beaten to death by the hands or feet of a suspect, an officer could articulate a reasonable need to use a firearm.” Why would a CEW be banned “in these instances if it might prevent the use of a firearm?”

And why would an officer not be permitted to use a CEW “on a violent but unarmed suspect who is larger and stronger than the officer and who threatens the officer’s safety? [I]f the unarmed suspect begins to grapple with the officer, the officer will have to defend him or herself from a stronger opponent while practicing weapon retention techniques for two separate weapons (CEW and firearm) located on opposite sides of the officer’s body…. [This] is not in line with the best practices of other agencies.”

As for prohibiting drive stuns, “What purpose is served?” he asked. “Other agencies recognize [that] use…and indeed recognize it as a lesser use of force than…firing the probes.”


Also forbidden under the proposed regulations were striking a handcuffed prisoner with an impact weapon, raising an impact weapon above the head to strike, and applying a carotid restraint to control a combative suspect.


A “blanket prohibition” against certain baton strikes would be “nonsensical,” the police attorney argued. “It is well documented that someone in handcuffs can still be dangerous–even lethal. To prevent officers from using an impact weapon against a dangerous individual, whether handcuffed or otherwise, only increases the risk of injury to the officer and the individual.

“The more non-lethal options that are removed from an officer’s arsenal, the more likely the incident will escalate to the point where the officer’s only option is lethal force.”

The trainer agreed and disputed the categorical ban on over-head strikes as well. “The location of the strike is what matters,” he wrote, “not the type of arm movement that caused the strike.” And the POA president pointed out:

“Normal physical controls and baton strikes are frequently ineffective when encountering suspects with a sufficient size differential. Is it the Department’s intention to leave smaller officers with no recourse when dealing with an assault from an unarmed but larger suspect than to use their firearm?”

As to the carotid restraint ban, the police attorney stated, “Based on my 22 years at the City Attorney’s Office, I cannot recall a single case in which an individual claimed injury” from that technique (which, of course, is vastly different from a bar-arm choke hold or other application that compresses the airway at the front of the throat).

The trainer noted that the state’s POST “mandates that the carotid restraint control hold be taught in all POST basic academies.” In the union president’s experience, it “has proven to be very effective against suspects who are on stimulants and/or hallucinogens, where other levels of force historically fail or would be ineffective.” Again, without it officers “may have no reasonable means” for controlling some combative subjects “short of the use of lethal force.”


The “novel” policy changes discussed here and others proposed in draft form are “massive” and, in effect, “will drastically change an officer’s approach to every potential encounter in which the use of force might be an option,” the trainer declared. “I foresee numerous unintended consequences,” because changing the rules of force “cannot be accomplished by simply changing the General Orders.”

Among his predictions:

• “None of the officers in [the agency] will be adequately trained” in the new policies. For the revisions to be effective, “all officers would have to be untrained in the things they learned in the academy and throughout their in-service training and re-trained to meet the [new] requirement[s]. In a time-for-time scenario, it would require the same amount of time to re-train skills as it did to initially train [them], or 6 to 8 months in an academy setting.”

• The department “would likely lose its POST accreditation. In fact, because POST would continue to teach concepts not just different but contrary to the [the agency’s] new, core approaches to uses of force, it might even be counter-productive for [the PD] to require its officers to be POST certified.”

• Confusion will reign. “Officers, citizens, and lawyers will all be guessing” as to what certain proposals, such as “proportional force,” actually mean. “This, of course, is problematic for officers being able to figure out in the field what they can or cannot do, and it will be even more problematic when their actions are second-guessed in disciplinary proceedings and civil lawsuits.”

Revising policies, the trainer cautioned, “should not be jumped into haphazardly, as a knee-jerk reaction to criticism from a relatively small but vocal segment of the total population…. Every word within a policy” should be “subject to scrutiny” because the language “can be used against the agency and the officers in civil litigation.”

The “disastrous” consequences of adopting these proposals “too quickly…without careful and thoughtful deliberation,” he warned, could well include the loss of civilian and police lives.

It would be unfortunate, he said, if the PD “adopts these policies first and then only later takes the time to consider how they can be improved or unintended consequences removed.”

“This are wise words to remember in the current atmosphere of demanding police ‘reforms,’ ” observes Dr. Bill Lewinski, executive director of the Force Science Institute. “What one writer has called The Good Intentions Paving Company is not always the best contractor to rely on when important new pathways are contemplated.”

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  1. The single most disturbing thing there is the intentional omission of Graham type protection against hindsight poisoning the analysis.

    If this goes for the cops, so it will go for non-cop DGU’s as well.

    Objective reasonableness is a very important concept in any conversation dealing with liberty and the grey areas of real life.

    Shoot; we already have people pushing for “pre-crime” RO’s and even arrest. Where does the road of analyzing actions in dynamic, violent, life-or-death situations against information not known to the players lead? Nowhere good.

    That’s a very dangerous path to walk, and this is so obvious that I can’t for a second believe it was not purely intentional to put everyone on that path.

    • Ironically, all the celphon pictures of martin were baned from the Zimmerman trial because Zimmerman could not have known about what was on the cell phone so could not have factored into the situation.

  2. What the hell is “proportional to the severity of the offense committed” have to do with the actual threat? That’s too much grey area to think around, too much grey area to train around, and plenty of grey area to sue no matter what happens. Reasonable force to end the threat was a fine standard, it is simply often ignored.
    There are, however, some good changes in this policy, like encouraging de-escalation and positioning. But the key here is the training of those techniques. Repositioning doesn’t just mean that you keep backing up, that’s a recipe for disaster.
    Beyond de-escalation, I’d like to see more training on when it is appropriate to have your weapon out and pointed at someone. I keep seeing videos and reading news stories of police shooting the wrong person, or shooting when they did not intend to, and injuring or killing someone. So many of those were because the officer was essentially interviewing someone while pointing a weapon at them, or detaining someone purely through the threat of lethal force. That’s never going to end well.

    • A related major problem is the ‘everyone shouts commands’ style of LE that has taken over in recent years.

      Whatever happened to the “Cover-Contact” principle where ONE VOICE was heard throughout a potentially violent encounter (the “Contact Officer”) and all remaining officers on the scene were “Cover”?

      Cover officers had the responsibility to “observe.” That is, because their brain / OODA loop was not taken up TRYING to think of cool stuff to say (a la Hollywood action movies) or being bossy, they could USE THEIR BRAIN to notice what the heck was going on.

      This “report” misses THAT opportunity…a real cause for confusion and unnecessary use of force. De-escalation techniques were, as I recall it anyway, built into the Cover-Contact doctrinally precisely because each person on-scene had a ‘role’ and they overlapped with a common purpose.

      • Great point. When I was on a Police Mentor Team we actually taught one voice, multiple responders, but I’ve never thought about how rarely I see that happen in a police encounter.

      • Cover-contact is almost never practiced in the field – it goes against human nature. Every cop likes to think they’re in charge, and in command-control reality, that’s what will happen.

        Let alone the fact that giving someone a tune-up while shouting “stop resisting” is great cover, just like multiple cops shouting contradicting commands at a suspect, which they could never obey, which amps up the F3 response.

        This is what happens in the real world, every day. People get beaten up (or shot), other cops lie about it, and when the video is finally released, DAs not only don’t seek a harsher penalty because the suspect is a cop, they try to settle in arbitration so the dirty laundry doesn’t get aired. Cop often gets promoted.

        • I remember practicing cover-contact in the field for felony stops and have seen it applied on warrant service. But hey, that was nearly 20 years ago. It was changing then, and a lot has changed since.

          It used to work fairly well…which is to say better than now with every one shouting to be in ‘control.’

          If an ad hoc situation, the contact officer was the one that initiated stop. If a planned thing, like warrant service, it was actually…believe it or not…assigned during the pre-service briefing.

        • 20 years ago? You were an early adopter. Glad to hear someone actually got “assigned” their job at roll call, especially for a warrant service.

          I’m not anti-cop, I’m just anti-cowboy-out-of-control-covered-for cop. I’ve read several pieces (by cops no less) that will admit that contact-cover is seldom practiced in the street today – command-control is the reality. And if you actually go slum it on coptalk, you’ll see the real underbelly…

          Of course this speaks to having really unqualified cops making it through POST. If you’re gonna get an adrenaline dump that *seriously* effects your ability to remember your training – perhaps a desk-job is in order. Or training needs to be waaaayyyy better. Someone waving a gun should concern you, self-preservation and all that. If someone is so freaked out that they mag-dump? Wrong line of work.

    • No kidding!

      Any process in which an “activist” is involved in something more than sitting around quietly starving to death, you know the outcome will be sub optimal. Talk about make-work for morons!

  3. Violent criminals in democrat controlled population centers are not going to stop their predatory behavior. Law enforcement officers must be retrained to value the lives of the murderous thugs who try to kill or injure them.

    This is simply a logical expansion of the policies that flow from local governments controlled by power hungry, corrupt politicians of sub-normal intelligence.

    • The food pyramid is a prime example. Not one life saved or excess weight removed, nor a teenager stopped from eating fries.

      Government has no business telling us what to eat only making sure our food is safe, and they don’t do that well either.

  4. I think police misuse of force and getting away with (sometimes) murder is a problem in this country.

    That said, these “reforms” would do nothing to actually help that problem and instead endanger good police officers needlessly.

  5. It should be examined. No officer should be shooting dogs chained up or behind of a fence. This is the equal of shooting a suspect in handcuffs or in a jail cell.

  6. I don’t believe that current policies are the problem, but rather poor training, and acceptance of the overly aggressive policing style that seems all too common. In my non LE experience, a calm, reasonable demeanor is more effective than screaming and threats at defusing a bad situation. I can envision situations where shouting “commands”at gunpoint may be the best option, but a routine traffic stop with an argumentative driver, for instance, isn’t one of them.

    There was a study several years ago that determined that much of the aggressive behavior is caused by the normal adrenaline dump in a tense situation, and that training LE to recognize and control the resulting aggressive behavior would alleviate much of the problem. 5 cops doing a mag dump on 1 tweaked out homeless guy isn’t necessary. Nor is dragging a motorist out of their car because they pissed you off.

    • Don’t underestimate the hiring policies as being causative as well. That goes with your “training” idea.

      Hire the “wrong” people and they don’t train well or ignore their training. Those “wrong” people were once culled during the hiring/training process. Now they seem to be sought out.

      • They are definitely not doing hiring very well.

        When you can not hire someone for being “too smart” you know exactly what you’re dealing with.

      • It’s circular. If what police does is go around kicking doors and shooting dogs (or at least that is the public perception), then more people who think it’s fun are going to apply, resulting in more doors being kicked etc…

  7. Would not the proposed changes please and silence the activists? Also, wouldn’t our police then be elevated to the professional plateau enjoyed by European police forces who are almost completely unarmed? Safer for everyone if bad actors simply turn themselves in, no?

  8. When Mrs. Clinton gets to prez. this will all go away. In the mean time I wouldnt want to be a cop. Yeh I dont like being pulled over n what not, but lets give our officers some credit. Its not an easy job.

    • It’s not supposed to be an easy job. But that’s not an excuse.

      I would agree if you said that, it being a difficult job, it ought to pay way more. It does. But that increased pay should come with a major change of attitude towards “civilians”, starting with cops applying that label to themselves, as they used to.

      Ultimately, the primary goal of the police officer is not supposed to be going home safe. It’s supposed to be other citizens going home safe. The cop going home safe is #2 on the priority list, but when there’s a conflict, the safety of other citizens is more important. All police rules, regulations and training should be centered around that simple principle.

  9. All non lethals should go away and a general announcement should be put out. “Raise a group against or a weapon to an officer and you’re toast.” There shouldn’t be all this “well, why did he use the tazer (etc)?” BS.

    It might increase violence a bit at first, but I’m sure It will even out, attrition if nothing else. Add the cams on cops to weed out the bad ones and I think we’d have a better solution.

  10. Civil rights legislation has had one major success and one major failure. The success is that bright, ambitious minorities are no longer arbitrarily excluded from positions of power, wealth and prestige for which their efforts qualify them. The failure is the number of minorities who fail to take advantage of or even reject the opportunities that their parents and grandparents struggled, sometimes at the cost of their lives, to win for them.

    The PERF recommendations are similar to the NYC mayor’s wish to decriminalize quality-of-life offenses and the US attorney general’s threat to launch civil rights investigations where disproportionately high numbers of a minority run afoul of the law regardless of their behavior. I think these policies reflect frustration with the civil rights failures. Nothing tried so far has motivated them. In an ideal society, minorities would be as law abiding as the majority. The policies are an attempt to jump straight to the ideal result without changing the underlying misbehavior. Of course, this makes no more sense than redefining Pi to be exactly 3 because its actual value is difficult to work with.

    The predictable result will be an increase in all types of crime, not just minor ones, as ne’er do wells cease to fear punishment for their bad behavior. Good neighborhoods will be dragged down to the level of the ghetto. Although the principal victims will be well behaved residents of these neighborhoods, the crime will spill over onto everyone.

    I can see the country going either of two ways. One alternative would be to elect hard line anti-crime politicians unconcerned about miscarriages of justice. Think of Trump on steroids. We might see a rise in vigilante justice or even Latin American style death squads. The other alternative would be replacement of patriotism and public spirit with apathy. Never try to excel. Do barely enough to get by, cutting corners as much as possible. As was said by a Russian under communism, “The government pretends to pay us. In return, we pretend to work.” Either alternative would be a disaster. The only reason to favor the first one is that, after we came to our senses, it might be easier to recover from it than from the second.

    • There is simply no issue with crime nation-wide. There are specific places where it’s high when it used to be low, and there are other places where it’s low and it used to be high, but all in all, the country is safer than it has ever been since the “War on Drugs” began (which by itself caused a massive spike in reported crime for obvious reasons).

  11. Whoever thought this up should be forced to go through Use of Force training and see how they do. If you extend the scenarios out far enough I’m sure many of these people will go through administrative reviews, being vilified in the press, loss of employment, possibly arrest, prosecution and imprisonment, just to keep the training real.

  12. As others have pointed out, this is mostly nonsense and the people writing it seems to be ignorant of all caselaw surrounding police use of force and defense in general. Some of it will simply be ignored (if a cop is justified in shooting someone under ‘reasonable threat of death or bodily harm’ then it makes no sense to consider the crimes of the suspect- even if he started out by jaywalking he must now be committing a serious assault!). But the part about ‘creating distance’ and not closing in on a suspect is doable, and cops should follow it. To the letter. Don’t shoot the crazy guy with a knife unless he’s attacking you. Sure, he might escape since you can’t get close enough to capture him. And he might kill someone else. But that’s the price people there must want to pay to make sure crazy guy with a knife doesn’t get hurt, I guess?

    • I don’t know anyone who saw that particular incident as a bad shoot.

      What people take issue with is the multitude of blatantly bad shoots, that cops lie about them, that other cops lie to support them. Not to mention DAs who not only don’t prosecute the cop more harshly as it is done under ‘color of law’, but they let them walk.

  13. Each one of these reforms no doubt relates to specific incidents. Now, why would this list get published, indeed why would BLM activists be involved with it’s creation, if they were so certain the trials in question would end in convictions? It kind of seems like this is designed to pre-empt the outrage that will result from most of these cops being acquitted. Specifically, the Laquan McDonald and Sam Dubose incidents. The likely exoneration of the officers in those cases has the pols in Cincinatti and Chicago squirming in their seats, and they are doing everything they can to soften the blow.

    Think about it; the fact that this is a list of “reforms” implies that protocol, while to blame, was nonetheless followed.

      • I saw that some time ago. The cops are definitely pussyfooting around this family, to the point where it nearly gets the officer killed. A struggle for the gun unfolded almost immediately, but in the confusion none of the other officers realized what was happening until they heard the first gunshot. Then, when the guilty party was neutralized, it obviously escalated the rage of his family.

        Everyone likes to use this incident to say “if it was a black family, every single one of them would have been shot because they all attacked an officer or two.” I like to use it to say “if overwhelming force was applied immediately this probably wouldn’t have happened.”

        The end of this video has an enhanced version of the shooting itself. You can see the struggle for the gun go on for nearly a minute while the officers deal with the melee;

        • Jesus Christ, you’re still posting the same chopped up videos to defend killer cops?

          One wonders why TTAG is re-posting garbage from police union mouthpieces who naturally want to give as much leeway as possible to their goons, who are already operating under a massively more lenient set of legal boundaries compared to civilians. No, that is not enough, they must have a license to kill to do their “jobs” properly!

          What is that job? To dispense violence for their politician masters, obviously.

          Observe how professional courtesy is dispensed:

  14. Fuck it, fuck it all, let’s just issue Sockem Boppers and give greeting cards with strongly worded pleas. Now nobody will get hurt, right?

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