non-deadly force | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Introduction / Policing

Non-deadly force is force that is not likely to cause death or serious bodily injury.

Contrast with deadly force


In the field of criminal justice, the term ‘force’ refers to the physical strength or power used to control or manage situations. Non-deadly force, as the name suggests, is a level of force that is not likely to cause death or severe injury. After all, it’s essential to understand the difference between non-deadly force and deadly force. Deadly force could result in severe injury or death, whereas non-deadly force aims to control without severe harm.

When is Non-Deadly Force Used?

Law enforcement officers use non-deadly force in various situations. For example, if a suspect resists arrest, officers may use non-deadly force to detain the individual. They might also use it to manage crowds or handle minor disturbances. Afterward, once the situation is under control, officers must stop using force. Above all, the goal is always to maintain order and safety without causing severe harm.


There are many types of non-deadly force. For instance, officers might use physical restraint, such as holding a person to prevent them from leaving. They may also use tools like batons, pepper spray, or tasers to control a situation. All these methods are intended to deter or control individuals without causing severe injuries.

The Principle of Reasonable Force

All use of force should be reasonable. This means that the level of force should match the level of threat or resistance. After that, if a person stops resisting or the threat level decreases, officers should reduce the force they’re using. Both the law and law enforcement agencies emphasize the importance of using the least amount of force necessary.

Non-Deadly Force and the Law

The law allows law enforcement officers to use this type of force when necessary. However, officers must also respect people’s rights. Consequently, they can’t use excessive force. Whether the force used is considered reasonable depends on the specific circumstances of each case. For instance, courts will consider factors such as the seriousness of the crime, the level of threat posed by the suspect, and whether the suspect was resisting arrest.

Non-Deadly Force: A Balancing Act

In conclusion, non-deadly force is a crucial tool for law enforcement, helping them to maintain order and safety. However, it’s also a balancing act. On one hand, officers must control situations and protect themselves and others. On the other hand, they must respect individuals’ rights and avoid causing unnecessary harm. Above all, the use of such force underscores the principle of moderation and the commitment to preserving life in the field of criminal justice.

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Last Modified: 06/30/2023


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