Using Force: A Reflection and Some Suggestions For Police

Unknown-1Early on in my police career I came to see that how one uses force – from verbal direction to physical restraint – was an important part of police work.

I began to work on my martial arts skills and adapt them to police work. Within a few years, I was teaching police defensive tactics in my own department (Minneapolis) and throughout the state under the auspices of the Minnesota State Crime Bureau.

images-2I came to see the application of force as similar to that of a surgeon; to be done carefully, accurately, and appropriately – and always using only the amount of force necessary to overcome the resistance I was experiencing.

The problem today is the same it has been in the half century I have worked in and observed police – the lack of training. Add to this the addition of a number of other police “tools” for the application of force that went far beyond a pistol and a stick. Today, police have electronic control devices (ECD or Tasers), chemical sprays, “bean bag” projectiles, personal handguns with firepower far in excess of the 6-shot revolver I carried, in many departments, the availability of military-style assault rifles.

I sense the result of all this weaponry is police who are not very well trained in either of these disciplines and unsure of themselves in “hands-on” contact and proper restraining methods. I say this because these are difficult, but necessary, skills that must be practiced daily if not weekly — and I am sure no police organization today makes such a training and competency commitment; therefore, we see what we see today.

With all this weaponry, with terrorism on every other person’s tongue, with a broad range of weaponry in which an officer may not feel competent to use, fear can easily prevail.

And when officers are afraid, they make big and often deadly mistakes. Most of the egregious videos portraying a variety of police misconduct, from verbal insults to deadly force, I would venture to say involved frightened police officers.

And when police officers are frightened, they cannot do a competent job.

How is fear overcome and police competency increased? Here are some suggestions:

  • Affirm the function of a police officer is to safeguard and protect lives; that the department believes in the sanctity of human life.
  • Make sure police are competent in using the tools they have been given.
  • Arm police with “smart guns” which cannot be fired except by the owner (reducing the fear of being disarmed and shot).
  • Train police in the Czech Republic method of “non-deadly” firearm use (aiming at other than “center-mass”).
  • Make sure police are highly competent in the verbal skills necessary to diffuse and de-escalate agitated and aggressive persons.
  • Teach police the proper ways to respond to persons who are obviously mentally ill using the very least amount of force including new and creative ways of containing their behavior without killing them.

Some or all of these suggestions will greatly reduce the number of citizens shot by police.

Police leaders need to discuss what they are doing with their community in order to start to rebuild trust and community support. I would further venture to say that this is what community members want to hear from you.

It’s simply the right thing to do.


For more on this topic see:

And an earlier blog of mine:


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