Restructuring Police Use of Force Training

Unknown-2As a very early member of the newly-formed Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) in the 1970s, I was greatly pleased to see the following work by them. This is precisely the kind of work we, as a small group of concerned chiefs of police envisioned years ago — that we should be forward-thinking, innovative, and creative leaders.

If you have followed this blog you will know that many of the points I have written about for improving how force is used by police is present in this report. Congratulations to Chuck Welter and fellow members for pushing this forward. Good work!


“Dear PERF member:

“I am pleased to tell you that PERF has completed its report on “Re-Engineering Training on Police Use of Force,” the latest in PERF’s Critical Issues in Policing Series. The report is available online by clicking here: We will also be sending you a hard copy in the mail.

“This report is one of the most important documents PERF has produced in recent years, because it provides guidance on a fundamental issue:

  • How to restructure the training of police officers on use of force.

“PERF members have never been afraid to challenge the conventional thinking and consider new ways of doing things. Since PERF was established nearly 40 years ago, this is how we have improved the policing profession.

“As you will read in this report, PERF members are saying that while the vast majority of our officers are performing their jobs admirably and courageously every day, there are certain types of situations that can be handled differently to reduce the use of force – particularly situations in which people are behaving erratically, may be emotionally disturbed, or may have a mental illness, but do not have a gun. We are suggesting that time and distance coupled with new tactics and training can help produce outcomes that result in saving lives of officers and suspects. We are suggesting strategies that we have seen used in England and Scotland.

“Use-of-force training was one of the main issues that emerged from our “Defining Moments” conference last September in Chicago. And so we immediately began planning a second conference, which we held this past May, in which nearly 300 police executives and other experts discussed their strategies for de-escalating incidents and restructuring training on use of force. We also fielded a survey of 280 police agencies on their current training programs. And we went overseas to observe force training in Police Scotland, because they have had great success in handling situations involving mentally ill persons armed with a knife or other edged weapon.

Here are some of the key points in this report:

  • The training currently provided to new recruits and experienced officers in most departments is inadequate. We need more integrated, scenario-based training that mirrors the real-world situations that officers face.
  • Policy and training are important, but this is also a question of police culture. For example, the traditional thinking that police officers’ job is to go into a situation, take charge, and resolve it without delay is not helpful in situations where we want officers to “slow it down.”
  • Certain elements of training or culture should be eliminated or rethought, such as ‘the 21-foot rule.’
  • These issues are not theoretical; many departments are already beginning to implement them.
  • On certain issues, we can learn from other nations’ police departments.
  • We need to learn more about ‘suicide by cop’ incidents.
  • Use-of-force training must continue to change as we learn best practices from our efforts to resolve these difficult situations.

“Finally, we owe it to our officers to improve their training. Comprehensive, integrated, scenario-based, realistic training will help officers understand how concepts like de-escalation, crisis intervention, defensive tactics, communication skills, legal issues, and other aspects of use-of-force training fit together when they are confronted with difficult situations.

“I am grateful to the PERF members who participated in our Re-Engineering Training conference and contributed to this project.

“I hope you will find this report helpful. I’m quite sure you will find it interesting; it consists mostly of compelling, candid quotations from some of the best leaders in the profession.”

All the best,
Chuck Wexler, Executive Director

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