Police Use of Force: Proposed Legislation

images-1Legislation on Police Standards: What do you think?

This has been a multi-generational discussion: At what level should police standards be set?

We have one federal government, 50 state governments, over 31K counties, and 18K+ local units of government with a police agency. Who should set standards such as educational requirements, length of training and topics to be covered, use of force requirements, and requirements for top leaders?

In my fantasy life, I think one entity should set those standards, but then do I want the federal government (and most likely FBI) to do it? Probably not.

Recently some state lawmakers are moving into the area of setting police standards through legislation. Here’s a draft of one state’s thinking on this:

  1.  Add a set number of hours of use-of-force de-escalation training to state training requirements for police certification  (in addition to vehicle pursuit training and firearm training that are already included).
  • De-escalation: De-escalation tactics and techniques are actions used by officers which seek to minimize the likelihood of the need to use force during an incident. Officers shall attempt to slow down or stabilize the situation so that more time, options and resources are available for incident resolution.

2.  Additional items law enforcement agencies must include in their written policies:

  • Duty to Preserve Life: The primary duty of all members of the service is to preserve human life, including the lives of individuals being placed in police custody.
  • Necessity: Deadly force should only be used as a last resort. The necessity to use deadly force arises when all other available means of preventing immediate and grave danger to officers or other persons have failed or would be likely to fail.
  • Proportionality: It is this department’s policy to accomplish the police mission with the cooperation of the public, with minimum reliance upon the use of physical force. When force is needed, the force used shall be in proportion to the threat posed.
  • De-escalation: Prioritizing de-escalation tactics to reduce the use-of-force by officers.

3. Require the state law enforcement standards board to look at and develop best practices in the following areas:

  • Reducing the use-of-force by law enforcement officers while also increasing officer safety.
  • Treating the arrest of a subject exhibiting symptoms of a drug-induced psychosis or a psychotic episode as a medical emergency.
  • Encouraging officer intervention and accountability in excessive use-of-force incidents.
  • Requiring officers to reassess the situation after each discharge of their firearm.
  • Developing effective programming for officers who experience traumatic events.

4. Further: law enforcement agencies are to collect and report the following information to the state department of justice, who will release an annual report summarizing the incidents: 

  • Identifying the characteristics of the person, including race, gender, and age, who was the target of the use of force and the officer who used force;
  • Time, date, and location of the use of force;
  • Alleged criminal activity of the person who was the target of force;
  • Whether the person who was the target of force was armed;
  • Number of officers involved in the incident;
  • Nature of the force used, including the use of a firearm;
  • Explanation, if any, from the relevant law enforcement agency on why force was used;
  • Copy of force guidelines in effect at the time deadly force was used; and
  • Description of any efforts employed to apprehend or subdue the person who was the target of the use of force before force was used.

What do you think should be done?


  1. I’ve been a supporter, and active proponent, of law enforcement accreditation for 20 years. I used accreditation standards as a model for how to run my police agency and I have been puzzled as to why more police chiefs do not embrace the standards as “best practices” for their agencies. I know the arguments, cost, work required to build and maintain files and “interference” with local control. I reject them all but I also don’t believe in legislative mandates. How about a national set of standards in these high risk areas and then a federal incentive to comply with a process of review and accreditation? The model is already in place.


    1. I would not be surprised that we (finally) establish some Federal guidelines or best practices. If this happens, I believe it will be an indictment of police leadership who should have pressed for and accomplished this and monitored it years ago.


    2. I have about a dozen years of accreditation experience with several credentialing bodies, and from my perspective, the value of any program is directly related to how tightly the standards are written. A frequent criticism of the CALEA program is that simply requiring agencies to address a particular topic doesn’t guarantee best practices will be implemented. For example, I’m aware of an accredited agency that allows pursuits of motorcyclists for minor traffic violations, and I don’t think anyone would argue that’s a best practice in 2016.
      Also, there may be some difficulty with national standards in that the federal circuits have been known to disagree from time to time. For example, look at how they differ in their application of Graham v. Connor. Some look only to the moment in time at which force is applied, while others evaluate pre-seizure conduct. The national standard is Graham, yet the result of any particular case can vary greatly depending on which analysis is conducted.


      1. Thanks for this, Ashley. In my experience with policies and standards, what really counts in policing is your heart. And that’s hard to quantify until you have to apply it. Sorry you couldn’t make it to Platteville. Love to meet you! Next year? Press on!


  2. “Officers shall attempt to slow down or stabilize the situation so that more time, options and resources are available for incident resolution.”

    The recommendations are excellent; however, there is one problem. That one state seems to forget that most LEO departments have 25 or less cops which means that resources such as having more cops at the scene are very minimal or non-existent. Many cops who work in the rural areas realizes that if they tried to call for backup, it will take a significant amount of time for extra help to arrive


  3. Legislative changes such as these give the illusion of fixing the problem. We’re just rearranging the deck chairs on a sinking ship. Someone else finally noticed the phenomenon I’ve been preaching on for several years.


    The entire police system is broken. What we are currently experiencing is the entropy that occurs when the inputs and through puts of a system are failing.


  4. It would be great to have federal standards or guidelines if we can ensure that the federal agencies who enforce the standards are not subject to politics at the federal level plus getting heat from the state politicians as well. If it takes a legislative mandate to create the standards/guidelines then so be it since it is obvious that the police chiefs and the city, country, and state politicians are not going to do it.


  5. There was a former police chief of Cleveland back in the 60s and 70s (can’t recall his name) who had written about the police in America and pointed out in his book how manicurists, pedicurists, and hairdressers had more training requirements, had to take a state exam to get their licenses, and then had to work to keeping their licenses along with passing health, environmental, and labor inspections by the responsible government agencies at their workplace.


  6. The problem with “National” standards is that policing is a local issue. The feds can not come in and dictate standards and practices, this is blatantly unconstitutional even though they do it regularly with “consent decrees.” CALEA has to be very careful with their assessment teams so that they do not dictate “best practices” to local agencies as the tendency to do so makes agencies shy away from the process all-together. This is woven into our American view of the role of local police and you are only going to cure it by transforming to a national policing system, like Canada (good luck). Getting local agencies to conform with national best practices is best accomplished with incentives, not coercive “feel good” legislation. What would this look like??

    How about a federal agency charged with providing liability insurance to local governments with a legislative mandate that all police agencies must be insured. Now, set the rate for this insurance based on a risk assessment for each agency. In other words, those who conform with “best practices” get a lower rate. Those with the lowest rates can pay their cops more, non-conforming agencies are forced out of business. Just a thought.


  7. Well the local police and local government have not been doing a thing about their standards for the last years. Furthermore, the Japanese and German national governments have been setting standards for their provincial police forces for years and it seems to work pretty well. I don’t know about the Japanese national government; however, the German Federal government makes sure that it has a say in the matter about the standards since they are putting up some of the money to help the provincial police pay for training, personnel, and equipment.

    Regarding Canada, if you look at the history of the RCMP, they were sometimes asks by the citizens of some of the Canadian provinces to take over the policing because the provincial police forces were corrupt and/or were controlled by the local politicians. Where were the standards of those Canadain police departments? Sounds like the RCMP had better standards for their own people.

    If we are going to have liability insurance, then the locals need to put in their share of the money. It would give them an incentive to improve their departments instead of letting the American taxpayer have to bear the cost of paying out while the local cops can continue with the business as usual practice with no repercussions.

    “Getting local agencies to conform with national best practices is best accomplished with incentives, not coercive “feel good” legislation. What would this look like??”

    Why should we provide incentives if being a police officer is a noble calling? People who join the police to do it because it is an honor/privilege and do not feel that they need incentives in order to do their jobs. If we did that, we might as well turn the police from a public sector force into a mercenary one; however, when you look at the history of the American police, they were used as a mercenary force at the bidding of the American corporations with the American taxpayer footing the bill. We have given plenty of economic incentives to big corporations and wealthy people and look how it has made the country poorer.

    If we are ss afraid of big government, then maybe the federal government should not be assisting the National Guard in terms of providing training, weapons, uniforms, vehicles, aircraft, etc. Let all 50 states do their own military procurement for their state militia and see what kind of chaos you will get. Also, have the states provide their own VA, Social Security, Air Guard, Coast Guard (if they have a body of water), instead of the federal government.


    1. Some very good points, Gunther. Where to from here? will be the cry as the months tick by since Ferguson (which will forever be THE date we started to more deeply look at our police and what some of them were doing).


  8. “Getting local agencies to conform with national best practices is best accomplished with incentives, not coercive “feel good” legislation. What would this look like??”

    Many police departments have been given incentives to their officers such as educational pay, longevity pay, assistance with housing, uniform allowances, etc. Do you see the rest of the city, county, state, and federal employees getting those incentives? No, you do not even though many of them have more education than the cops and have been in government service just as long or even longer than the cops.


    1. Other government workers who have furthered their educations, or demonstrated loyalty to their employers through longevity, often receive benefits commensurate with their degrees or years of service. As a cop, I’m also a taxpayer, and I’m willing to pay a little more for an educated and stable workforce.


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