Force number, not to be confused with force identification number, refers to the level of force an officer applies in a given situation. Police officers are trained to apply various levels of force but should start with the first level that does not require them to make physical contact with a person. However, depending on the situation an officer is faced with, he/she may gradually need to increase their force number, or level of force as they deem necessary.

In some cases, if an officer’s life is in danger, they may have to have to skip a few levels in an effort to defend themselves.


Understanding the Police Use of Force Continuum


The levels of force police officers are permitted to use fall into a use of force continuum chart. The force number starts at one (Level 1) and goes up to five (Level 5). While every police department in the U.S. does have its own use of force policy which details the types of behaviors or actions that are accepted and/or prohibited, below we are sharing with you an example of a typical use of force continuum. This should give you an idea as to how officers should be responding to certain types of situations.


  1. Level 1- Officer Presence

Level one is considered to be “the best way [for an officer] to resolve a situation” as there is no actual force that is applied. Instead, the officer’s presence “works to deter crime or diffuse a situation.” Under this level, an officers’ attitude should be professional and nonthreatening.

  1. Level 2- Verbalization

Although a Level two use of force does not involve an officer taking physical action, it is a step up from Level one in that an officer begins to issue “calm, nonthreatening commands, such as “Let me see your identification and registration.” An officer may need to raise their volume and shorten their commands (i.e. say things like “Stop” or “Don’t move”) in an attempt to get an individual to comply.

  1. Level 3- Empty-Hand Control

Level three is where an officer uses bodily force to gain control over a situation. They may use a “soft technique” such as grabbing or holding or a “hard technique” that involves them punching or kicking in an effort to retain a person.

  1. Level 4- Less-Lethal Methods are Applied

Level four entails an officer using “less-lethal technologies to gain control of a situation.” This can be done using blunt impact (i.e. using a baton or projectile), chemical (i.e. pepper spray), or Conducted Energy Devices (i.e. taser) to gain control over a suspect or civilian.

  1. Level 5- Lethal Force

This level involves an officer using lethal weapons (i.e. a firearm) to subdue a person or to gain control over a situation. Level five should only be applied “if a suspect poses a serious threat to the officer or another individual.”

As we mentioned, law enforcement officers are expected to apply the least amount of force as possible when making contact with a suspect or civilian.


What if a police officer uses too much force?


Anytime an officer applies force that is considered excessive or unreasonable, regardless of what the level of force is, they are abusing their authority which, in turn, violates your rights. Excessive force has been a recurring issue among police officers and is currently one of the Department of Justice’s most investigated forms of misconduct.

If you think the level of force an officer applied exceeded what was reasonable and necessary, you should consider contacting a police brutality lawyer near you to find out how you can defend your rights.

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