Course: Policing / Procedural Law
The use of force refers to the amount of physical coercion an officer may apply to an individual in order to control a situation or make an arrest, which is governed by the Fourth Amendment’s “objective reasonableness” standard.
In the context of policing, the use of force refers to the amount of physical coercion that an officer may apply to an individual in order to control a situation or make an arrest. The use of force by law enforcement officers is governed by the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. The Supreme Court has established that the use of force by law enforcement officers must be objectively reasonable under the circumstances, as determined by a careful balancing of the nature and quality of the intrusion on the individual’s Fourth Amendment interests against the countervailing governmental interests at stake. This standard was established in Graham v. Connor (1989), where the Supreme Court held that the use of force must be objectively reasonable from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than judged with the benefit of hindsight.
The use of force by law enforcement officers is governed by a continuum, with a range of options available to officers depending on the situation. The amount of force that is considered reasonable in a given situation will depend on a variety of factors, including the severity of the crime being investigated or the threat posed by the suspect, the level of resistance offered by the suspect, and the availability of other options for controlling the situation.
In some cases, the use of force by law enforcement officers may be considered excessive or unreasonable. When this occurs, the individual may have a claim for excessive force under the Fourth Amendment. The Supreme Court has established that the question of whether the use of force was objectively reasonable is to be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than judged with the benefit of hindsight. However, the court has also held that the reasonableness of the use of force must be judged under the totality of the circumstances, taking into account the severity of the crime, whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and whether the suspect is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight.
The use of force continuum is a tool used in police training to provide officers with a structured approach to the use of force. The continuum is a set of guidelines that describe the amount of force that may be used in response to a suspect’s behavior, with each level of force corresponding to a specific level of resistance from the suspect.
The use of force continuum typically consists of several levels of force, ranging from verbal commands to deadly force. The exact number and nature of the levels may vary depending on the jurisdiction and agency, but they generally follow a similar progression. The following are some examples of typical levels of force in a use of force continuum:
- Officer presence: This level involves the mere presence of an officer, which can be enough to deter criminal activity or diffuse a potentially violent situation.
- Verbal commands: This level involves verbal commands and warnings given by the officer to the suspect. These commands may include orders to comply with the officer’s instructions or warnings of the consequences of non-compliance.
- Soft control techniques: This level involves the use of physical contact or control techniques that are not likely to cause injury, such as joint locks or pressure point control.
- Hard control techniques: This level involves the use of physical force that may cause some injury, such as strikes, kicks, or the use of a baton.
- Less lethal force: This level involves the use of weapons or tools that are designed to incapacitate a suspect without causing death, such as pepper spray, tasers, or beanbag rounds.
- Deadly force: This level involves the use of lethal force that is likely to cause death or serious injury, such as the use of firearms.
The use of force continuum is designed to help officers determine the appropriate level of force to use in a given situation based on the level of resistance or threat posed by the suspect. The goal is to use the minimum amount of force necessary to control the situation while minimizing the risk of harm to both the suspect and the officer.
While the use of force continuum is a useful tool in police training, it is important to note that it is not a rigid set of rules. Officers must use their judgment and discretion to determine the appropriate level of force to use in a given situation, taking into account the specific circumstances and the potential risks and consequences of their actions.
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Last Modified: 03/14/2023