Philosophy on Use of Force

For a consulting proposal I'm working on, I needed to write a one-page summary of my police use of force philosophy. I thought I'd share it here to spark a discussion:

First and foremost, I believe in dignified policing. This requires a sense of pride in self, peers, and agency. However, at its core, dignified policing is about treating citizens with respect, compassion, and understanding. When a police officer allows a citizen to retain his/her dignity, amazing things are possible.

I believe in enforcing the law in accordance to the Constitution. As such, police officers must operate within the confines of case law, specifically that of the Fourth Amendment. An intimate knowledge of Search and Seizure is a foundation for legitimate law enforcement.

Department use of force policy should mirror case law standards. Words such as minimum, avoidable, and necessary have no place in agency policy. Determining force’s avoid-ability or necessity requires either a crystal ball or time machine. However, objective reasonableness is a pass/fail benchmark; while unreasonableness is punishable, more than mere “reasonableness” should be present for reward.

Use of force training must go beyond objective reasonableness. Law is only a starting point. Training should encourage restraint, but not at the cost of reluctance. Officers should, as a default, embrace the concept of incident stabilization – the reduction of risk, the slowing of time, the maintaining of options, the collection and processing of information, and the reliance upon specialized resources. I cringe at the term de-escalation, as it has too narrow of application. Stabilization is broad enough to address a situation’s strategies, tactics, intrusiveness, attitude, intent, and force.

Officers must consider incident strategy before considering tactics or force. Strategies (and operational philosophies) fall on a spectrum of sorts. At one end: slow, static, methodical, deliberate, calm, distanced, containment; at the other end: fast, dynamic, urgent, aggressive, intrusive, approach or entry. Generally speaking, officers should rationalize and defend any departure from stabilization into action-based strategies, based on the urgency of threats or dangers. This practice is legally defensible, safe, effective, and follows basic risk management theory.

Decisions on police force should follow a simple mental process, in this order of priority:
  1. Assessment of the situation (Priority of Life),
  2. Objective or goal (arrest; seizure; defense; other),
  3. Strategy (stabilize à act),
  4. Tactics,
  5. Force.

Lastly, when force is used by a police officer, it should be done with confidence and decisiveness. While quantum of force cannot be precisely measured, it should be sufficient in amount, duration, type, and degree to accomplish the purpose, but not exceed Constitutional allowances.

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What are your thoughts on the above summary? 



Louis Hayes is a police training unit Sergeant. He has special interests in generalism, adaptive systems, adult learning principles, and how humans process information, make decisions, and perform under stress.

Follow him on Twitter at @LouHayesJr.


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