Variations in force.
Force can be undertaken by officers through verbal, physical and weapons interactions with alleged criminals. If the use of force is necessary to protect citizens from harm, officers must exercise objective reasonableness when making their decisions to use force in a given situation with all of the information they have available in that instant, because that is the standard which they will be judged by and does not include any information that comes to light after the fact. The argument is that it does not matter if an encounter reveals that the gun wasn’t loaded if an officer shoots a subject who is threatening him and pointing a gun at him. The officer would have been justified in their use of deadly force if they believed their life or the life of someone else was in danger at the time of the incident.
The 1989 U.S. Supreme Court Case of Graham v. Connor is the supporting “go to” case law regarding force options for police officers. Police brutality actions involving excessive force can be a violation of civil rights, but force is necessary to keep communities safe in many circumstances. Because actions by officers occur through split second decision-making where life and death situations occur, weighing in on the ethical and effective police activity in the community is based on certain parameters. The Graham ruling recognizes that an officer may use the amount of force which is reasonable and necessary based on a balance test where an officer’s actions are “objectively reasonable” given the “totality of the circumstances.” This means that the officer must consider what is often referred to as the “Graham Factors:” Force may be used based on:
- the severity of the crime at hand;
- immediate threat to officer, others or suspect based on criminal action;
- suspect is actively resisting arrest or fleeing the crime scene.
Legal actions taken against police officers regarding excessive force are outlined “under color of law.” It is a crime to deprive another person of their protected rights under United States Constitution (18 U.S.C. §§ 241, 242), and criminal and civil legal action can be initiated to remedy the injustice with the possibility of fines and/or prison time when the use of any type of force is not warranted. The objective reasonableness standard establishes that officers are not necessarily limited to using the least amount of force possible to control a situation. Police are called to use only the level of force that falls within the range of what might be considered reasonable in that particular scenario.
De-escalation training is proving to be an effective tool to reduce excessive force and provide options for safe restraint measures as “de-escalation” tactics slow down a police encounter allowing officers more time, distance, space and tactical flexibility during dynamic situations on the street. Components of de-escalation include:
- Listen respectfully.
- Crowd control.
- Courteous example.
- Body language reducing intimidation.
- Control offensive talking or action during encounter.
- Don’t publicly humiliate anyone and be respectful.
- Don’t waste time and energy trying to convince a citizen that he’s wrong and you’re right.
- Remember that “broken record” is a useful way to achieve two goals—conveying the message that you’re in charge while keeping the lid on a potential conflict.
Seek legal counsel.
If you, or someone you love has been a victim of force by a police officer that you believe was unnecessary, you should seek legal counsel to review the incident and guide you through your legal options.