3 keys to improve public’s perception of force

When used lawfully, reasonably, and within the totality of the circumstances, force is appropriate; we need to work hard to educate the press and the public that this is the case

Law enforcement officials have always had the lawful ability to use force within the context of their jobs. Yes, force has been abused at times in American history and individuals have had their rights violated.

There is a whole host of incident in recent memory that provide for a skewed application of force, from Kent State to Rodney King, Seattle’s Consent Decree, the St. Paul Police skyway TASER incident, and the Brown incident in Missouri. 

Force is used in a tiny fraction of police contacts with the public. Below is a chart which was created by LAAW International’s Mike Brave, which provides for a visual representation for guidelines of force. 

Constitutional Use of Force
Force is part of a law enforcement professional’s job, and sometimes there is no other option. Sometimes the reasonable thing is for officers to use lethal or less lethal force on an individual. In looking at the Rodney King incident, the sitting federal judge hearing the case stated that about five of the baton strikes to Mr. King were excessive. Conversely that means that about 50-55 were not “excessive.”

Recent research conducted by policy groups to include: Force Science, California Training Institute, and Dr. Darrel Ross on the dynamics of a human factors have created a great breadth of knowledge. This research has provided for a more robust understanding of officers, decisions, memory, and dynamics of force incidents. 

There are three simple things that you can do to change the public’s perception of the application and understanding of force. 

1. Positively work with the community to help them understand the job of the law enforcement professional. This is a tough job. There should be very intense media days which puts the media in the shoes of your officers. They should be put through the paces of defense tactics training, firearms, driving, and then simulators or scenarios, then asked to describe what they did and why. 

2. Bring civic leaders and do the same. Of course this should not be done on the heels of an incident, but well in advanced of something. The more allies or at least people that understand the dynamics of what your officer has done creates more support.

3. Always support your officers when they do things right. Punish them fairly when they do things wrong or incorrectly. But also provide support with training, education, and policy development. Conduct fair internal investigations, provide discipline, and corrective action when appropriate. Provide updated training after every incident that causes for a large scale incident in your community. Most importantly do not make the officer a spectacle or political fall guy. 

Force is one of the most controversial, and misunderstood parts of today’s law enforcement job description. Officers should not be afraid to “put hands” on an individual when objectively reasonable. Departments should not limit officers’ ability to use force under the Fourth Amendment, and following SCOTUS case decisions. This doesn’t mean officers should “freelance” force or use excessive or illegal force. In about 95 percent of contacts with the public, officers do not use force. 

Using force is part of the job — it is part and parcel to lawfully fulfill of the duties of the position. When used lawfully, reasonably, and within the totality of the circumstances, force is appropriate; we need to work hard to educate the press and the public that this is the case. 

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