National Consensus of Police Use of Force?

unknownA number of police organizations this month, led by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), endorsed a “National Consensus Policy on Use of Force.” What is remarkable is that one of the sponsoring organizations is the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), the largest national union of police officers. This comes a year after, and, perhaps a response last January to the ground-breaking report of the Police Executive Research Forum, “30 Guiding Principles on Use of Force.”

So, what are we to make of this “consensus” report? Here’s some of my observations.

There are two things our nation’s police must recognize and in which they should be responsive:

  1. How deadly force is used in American policing (particularly among subjects not threatening with a firearm).
  2. How they are building trust and respect (particularly among communities of color).

This, essentially, are the challenges facing our nation’s police. And the response? This means to be highly controlled in their use of force and to be able to de-escalate danger – think the “absolute necessity” standard of the European Union.

Secondly, to begin to practice what is being called “Procedural Justice;” that is, to build respect into every police contact whether it be of a witness or person under arrest.

But more has to be done than just talking about force and respect, or implementing new policies or methods of training and re-training, there must be DATA. Police must be able to track the effectiveness of these measures; to have the data to show what the situation was BEFORE and what the results of the improvements were – that is, to show IMPROVEMENT!

It would go something like this:

The chief has an outside polling group survey community members about trust and respect for police in the community. After the data are gathered, the department develops strategy and training requiring Procedural Justice in all police interactions. Then, a year later, the survey is conducted again. The results published (hopefully positive!), a community discussion ensues, and the strategy fine-tuned as the department moves forward.

The same close measure could be done in all instances of use of force. After a new strategy is implemented requiring careful use of all force by police, each use of force should be documented and compared with past data.

The objective being that the chief would be able to discuss with the community how trust and respect by community members have increased as a result of this strategy as well as documenting that the department’s uses of force have decreased (or become less severe) and efforts to de-escalate incidents have paid off.

Now back to the IACP “consensus policy.”

What I find troubling is the continual use of the low-bar use of force standard in Graham v. Connor — “reasonable objectiveness.”  We should be raising the bar, not maintaining it.

In my experience, I have found that to permit “vascular neck restraints” is to court trouble because to properly use this effective method of restraint requires an extremely high level of training that is beyond the scope of most police training protocols. Therefore, without intensive and periodic refresher training, this technique can quickly result in the “choke holds’ the policy prohibits in Section D.

I also have great trouble permitting any kind of “warning shots.” This would be a retreat in matters of community safety. To discharge a firearm in an urban environment is a dangerous act in and of itself.

I also have the same reservations about discharging a firearm at any moving vehicle.

I would also like more clarification in the use of less-lethal force described in Part IV, C, sub. 3 as to how that might be interpreted in the handling of public protest (“to being an unlawful situation… under control”).

Nevertheless, it is commendable for the document to begin with that statement “It is the policy of this law enforcement agency to value and preserve life,” the importance of “de-escalating” incidents, requiring “appropriate medical care” by officers whenever force is used and the duty for an officer to intervene should another officer use excessive force.

I feel positive that we are finally coming to a national agreement that police use of deadly force needs to be examined and improved with the objective of reducing the death at the hands of our nation’s police.

The next national agreement needs to address the manner and quality of police-citizen interactions whether it be information-collecting, supporting a crime victim or making an arrest.

See the Washington Post article on the “consensus policy” HERE.