Use of Force Training- A New Standard for Law Enforcement

By: Peter F. Boyce, General Counsel
National Narcotics Officers Association Coalition

The definition of Use of Force varies by state and often varies locally by agency.  Amnesty International, in a 2015 study asserts that "all 50 states fail to comply with the international law and standards on the Use of Lethal Force."  Only two states (Georgia & Tennessee) provide for training of police on the Use of Force by statute.
According to the Department of Justice, Federal Law Enforcement may only use deadly force "when necessary, that is when the officer has a reasonable belief that the subject of such force poses an imminent danger of death or serious physical injury to the officer or another person."  Some in the media and on the left of the political spectrum advocate that lethal force (firearms) "may only be used when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life."
Is pointing a firearm at someone a Use of Force or a Show of Force?  According to a Justice Department Settlement Agreement with Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2014, the Use of Force is "a physical effort to compel compliance by an unwilling subject above unresisted handcuffing including pointing a firearm at someone."  Does a taser point constitute a Use of Force?  Can deadly force be used to prevent the escape of all felony suspects or only to prevent the escape of a felony suspect who presents an imminent danger.  Some states allow deadly force to be used to prevent the escape of all felony suspects, while most states and the Federal government follow the holding in Tenn v. Garner and require that the felony suspect must pose an imminent danger before deadly force can be employed.    
Widespread media reports of police Use of Force over the last 18 months have raised significant questions regarding law enforcement's Use of Force.  Several police departments, police organizations and most notably the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing in 2015 sought to identify the best police practices and offer recommendations on how these practices can promote effective crime reduction.
Media scrutiny, civil lawsuits and huge financial judgments against officers and police departments have made continuous Use of Force Training an absolute mandate for all law enforcement personnel.
It seems inevitable that the federal government will mandate many of the recommendations of the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing and tie funding for state and local police to comply with training and reporting requirements of the Task Force's recommendations.
The study commissioned by the President was extensive with input from a broad section of law enforcement as well as members from the private and legal communities.  Some key components of the recommendations were that each officer receive Use of Force training on an annual basis. Training on de-escalating conflict and the need for special consideration for the mentally ill and emotionally disturbed should be a focus of continuous training.
According to the Task Force, community policing, as a way of doing business, is the cornerstone of the 21st century law enforcement.  The report also stresses that officers have a guardian mindset not a warrior mindset, be trained to treat everyone they encounter with dignity and respect, be neutral and transparent in decision making, and always convey trust worthy motives.  Proportionality, as it pertains to the Use of Force concept, needs to be reinforced as well as accountability for each substantive citizen encounter.
Standards for review of any serious Use of Force or other serious encounter likely will require that a Use of Force Investigation be conducted by an outside agency and that a Serious Incident Review Board be convened to address any serious Use of Force, injury, or meritous complaint.  Departments will likely be required to report the results of any such review including all lethal or serious injury Use of Force incidents to Department of Justice under the Violent Crime Control and Enforcement Act of 1994 which mandated the collecting and publishing statistics on all police Use of Force.  To date, Department of Justice has not done so.
If your department or agency does not comply with the emerging new standards pertaining to the Use of Force and other policing encounters, you can expect not only a reduction in federal funds, but also potential of lawsuits alleging "failure to train" seeking to hold politicians and command staff responsible for inadequate training.



Constitutional Policing and The Use of Force

This four to eight hour course of instruction focuses on constitutional policing and the use of force in the law enforcement community.while all officers understand that the law doesn't allow for unconstitutional action or discrimination in law enforcement activities, many do not fully appreciate that the perception of many in the minority community is that police do target minorities in disproportionate numbers and many believe that police efforts often skirt constitutional requirements. Strongly worded policies and procedures related to profiling and discrimination must be adopted where needed and officers from the top of the chain of command to the street level cops must consistently receive up to date training on issues related to constitutional policing.  Too frequently issues related to the court's view on constitutional issues seem to be left unaddressed in any formal training.  This class looks at recent high profile events and focuses on recent court decisions that have a direct impact on constitutional policing.  The public and media perceive that there is a need for a better understanding by all law enforcement that its enforcement efforts must adhere to rigid constitutional standards and not on past practices and procedures.  If state and local departments do not consistently update their officers with the latest constitutional cases and emerging trends, they expose their departments and officers to both criminal and civil liability.

Contact Peter Boyce directly at 770-833-7503 to discuss or schedule a class.

About the Author: Peter F. Boyce

Peter F. Boyce's career has been devoted to representing, counseling, and advising police officers. As a lawyer, consultant, and trainer, Peter is able to bring to his presentations a "real life, on-the-street scenario" that street cops immediately understand and appreciate. Peter regularly works with law enforcement agencies to tailor presentations to meet specific training needs. He is available as a keynote speaker for conferences.  In addition to his training and speaking, Peter is available to provide advice, consultation, representation or referrals to police officers and their employing agencies when they confront the inevitable legal issues that too often frustrate effective policing.

For the past 20 years Peter has spoken to thousands of street level cops as an instructor for the DEA, HIDTA, ROCIC and many federal, state and local police associations on use of force and critical incident survival. 

He has presented regularly to the Investigator's Roundtable, ROCIC, the Mid-West Counterdrug Training Center, multiple state Sherriff's Associations, the Georgia, California, Nevada, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin,Oregon, Minnesota, Missouri, Conneticut, and Indiana Narcotics Officers' Associations FLETC, National Narcotics Officers Association, Illinois Drug Enforcement Officers Association, the National Association of Black Narcotics Agents, Atlanta Police Department, the Gwinnett County Georgia School Police Department and police departments and task forces throughout the country.