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Police Use of Force Part III: Training

Part 1 of this series dealt with legal framework for use of force and Part 2 dealt with Human Factors. This third and final part is about police training.

glendalecommunitycollegeTraining is vital to the performance of a police officer/peace officer. The starting point for this training is the police academy. The current Arizona State standard is a 585 hour basic academy (R13-4-110.A.1). Most officers will attend this training full time and complete it in about 18 weeks. These minimum requirements are set in Arizona State Law and can be found under Arizona Administrative Code Title 13, Chapter 4. Peace Officers are in the community enforcing laws, investigating crimes, clearing up accidents, and having to forcibly arrest combative individuals. The starting point for learning how to do this is the basic training provided at the police academy . There are reserve academies as well for those citizens who wish to volunteer to serve their communities by becoming a reserve police officer.  Glendale Community College has one of the premier reserve programs comprised of  a 700 hour program that is completed in about 10 months.

As a point of comparison with regard to training hours, how much training it takes to become a licensed Cosmetologist? Earning a license for Cosmetology in Arizona, a person is required to complete 1450 to 1600 hours of training at an approved school. Even if we factor in the additional 600 hours of field training that police officers are required to complete after finishing the academy , cosmetologists are required to have an additional 300 hours of training over and above the 1150 required for a police officer  before they are allowed to practice  on their own.  Most of us probably have a deeper level of respect for Cosmetologists knowing the training required to obtain a license for that profession.

Teachers are another vital aspect to our society. They are shaping the hearts and minds of the future of our nation. To be an Elementary Education teacher in Arizona requires a minimum of 45 semester hours. To convert semester hours into clock hours an acceptable conversion is 1 to 15. So the minimum time spent for a teacher is 675 hours of training. To renew a teacher’s license requires 12 semester hours every 6 years, or on average 2 semester hours a year (a minimum 30 hours of continual training a year). Most teachers exceed this training time and should be applauded and paid more for it.

In Arizona, officers are required to have 8 hours of continuing education every year and 8 hours of proficiency training every 3 years (an average of 2.66 hours a year). Continuing education are areas that involve knowledge such as criminal Law, Landlord Tenant Act, traffic law, rules of evidence, search and seizure, mental illness, crimes in progress, constitutional law, biased  policing /racial profiling, civil process, narcotics/dangerous drugs, DUI, hazardous materials, crime prevention, ethics/professionalism, laws of arrest, and patrol procedures. Proficiency training covers first aid, firearms, high risk vehicle stops, arrest and control tactics, vehicle operations, and pursuit procedures. So over a three year average, peace officers are required to have a combined average of 10.66 hours of training a year. They are also required to have a handgun qualification every year and  successfully complete a judgmental shoot every year. Thankfully, some agencies exceed this minimum requirement, but many do not.

Peace officers in the state of Arizona make critical life altering decisions with less required initial training than a Cosmetologist and less required ongoing training than a Teacher. We expect them to enforce laws, settle disagreements, investigate complex crimes, make critical decisions on using force,  engage in high speed pursuits, understand and deal with all forms of mental illness, collect and process evidence.

The law enforcement profession is unique in that it is one of the only career fields (other than a soldier deployed to a combat zone) where an officer begins their daily shift carrying a loaded deadly weapon with at least 40 rounds of ammunition.  A police officer, from the minute they leave the station, is always faced with the possibility of being thrust into a situation not of their own choosing and, in the blink of an eye, having to make a decision on whether or not to use deadly force that could ultimately result in the death of a human being.

So the question is: “Do we provide them enough of the type of training needed to do all of these skills well?”

Training should almost be viewed as an insurance policy. You may not like paying the premiums and you hope you don’t need it. When you do need it you know you should have bought the best. When events go wrong in Law Enforcement they can go really wrong.  Therefore, training is not an area where you want to go cheap. Investing in high quality and frequent training is the best way to keep the community safe.

 A small agency  can pay 50,000.00 to get all of  their officers some additional hands on training or they can pay the damages connected to a police misconduct case which averages $330,000.00 (“The Truth About Police Misconduct Litigation”, Feb 2, 2010 David Packman). Wrongful death and excessive force cases are typically much higher payouts.

There is a dirty secret in Law Enforcement training. Police administrations will send out a written document (hard copy or electronic) with a sign in attendance roster requiring the officer to sign/acknowledge the document and call it “training”. This is not training. The rank and file officers sometimes call this “check the box training”. If asked at a hearing, this type of “training” allows a police administrator to say they have provided training when looking at attendance records. This is not training and should not be viewed as such. Sending someone a 2 page document on how to play chess does not mean they have been trained on it. Training means an interaction, it means questions, and it means there is a check on learning. If an individual is provided  a written document that an organization is going to refer to as training how does one know if you actually read it, if it was understood or, if you can apply what has been learned.

Officers need to have a solid working knowledge of  many complex areas associated with police work. These areas are not only challenging to understand they also are often times constantly changing. There are multiple reasons for these changes: States change their laws, decisions coming out of Circuit courts, Federal District courts and the Supreme Court can and do change existing laws and create new standards, there can be changes in aspects of illicit drug use, and not to mention new and evolving technologies in law enforcement. Officers have to stay on top of these changes. This takes time and it needs to be taught by experts in the areas. If we expect officers to perform properly and to standards  we have to train them right.

Proper training is not reading a policy on use of force. Reading does not always equate to understanding, and understanding does not mean you can apply it. Proper training is not just watching a video or listening to a lecture. Watching a task or skill is not the same as performing a task or skill. Watching someone play piano does not mean you can do it. Proper use of force training means you have to put officers under realistic stress and force them to make decisions. There are multiple ways of conducting this training. Some of the methods provide different stages of the “crawl, walk, run” training concept.  just as  it sounds, we take people through appropriate learning stages that  go from the simple and relatively low stress and progress to scenarios that are infinitely more complex, fast paced and stressful.  The “crawling” stage involves the mechanical performance of a task like shooting a firearm or a Taser deployment on stationary target. “Walking” could be a scenario through a video simulator. The final stage of “running” is best conducted with “force on force” scenario based training.

Earlier it was mentioned that officers have to qualify with their firearm once a year and conduct a judgement shoot once a year. This judgement shoot has been conducted by most agencies using a video simulator. These simulators are made by companies that include IES, Virtra, Ti Training, and FATS. These systems run from $20,000 to $180,000. They allow for instructors to expose officers to prerecorded events and evaluate the outcome. These systems are not cheap and like most computers there are ongoing costs to maintain them to include hardware and software updates. Video simulators  use a 2 dimensional projected image that requires the officer to perform in a limited area or space and roleplay  with the images being projected on a movie screen. These systems can be a good stage in the learning and testing process when it comes to evaluating an officer’s judgement regarding whether or not to shoot on a simulated use of force scenario.

The ultimate use of force training for officers is “force on force” training. “Force on force” is a scenario based training concept that incorporates the use of human actors/role players to take on the role of the adversary.  During these scenarios you have officers and role-players engaged in live events that exposes the officer to personal jeopardy and gives them the opportunity to make a variety of tactical and use of force decisions while operating under stress. This includes role-players presenting various levels of resistance to the officer, threatening the officer, actually attacking the officer, or complying with the officer. Role-players in protective suits can hit the officer, tackle the officer, and shoot the officer with a modified firearm. The officer is also carrying a modified firearm and control devices. This modified weapon fires a small projectile with a marking compound in it. The marking compound allows accountability for different officers with different colors in their weapon. The fired projectile goes fast enough to leave a bruise and cause the officer pain, but not penetrate the skin. The projectile is designed to create pain but not injury. This pain is what creates jeopardy, the fear of being hurt creates the stress. Marking cartridges combined with the pain of being hit ensures accountability (no more arguments over hits and misses). In real life, tactical mistakes, unnecessary risks, and errors in judgement all carry penalties.  The same penalties apply in force on force training.  These “penalties” allow police trainers to give officers in training the most realistic experience possible short of causing death. Training of this type does not come without its risk’s. Officers can and do get injured from time to time in this type of dynamic training. Special protective gear has to be used to protect the eyes, throat and groin. The best thing about good force on force training is that it is not just about a firearm. Less lethal force options such as training batons, inert pepper spray, or a Taser with a Live Simulation training cartridge in it can all be used as part of this training.

Force on force training has been in use in the law enforcement community since the 1980’s. The original and still the industry leader in this technology is Simunitions which came up with the first marking cartridge system along with specialized technology that allowed them to be fired out of existing weapon platforms. They have  continued to improve the technology and the methodology of this vital type of training.

Recently, there has been a push from certain groups here in the US to include the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF)  comparing how the United Kingdom (UK) handles similar police related use of force and tactics.  Among arguments raised are those that advocate giving our officers shields that they can hold on their arm when dealing with subjects with knives. Apparently some folks in the UK believe it  is acceptable for officers to get cut, injured or worse by requiring officers armed only with shields to get up close and personal with a knife wielding suspect. Having participated in edged weapon training for the last 15 years I can tell you this is completely unacceptable. Police in America are trained to have a healthy respect for edged weapons. An average person armed with a knife and, with minimal skill, is easily capable of inflicting serious injury or killing another person. Under Arizona law, a person threatening or attacking with an edged weapon is considered to be a lethal threat and, under those conditions, a lethal response is often appropriate and lawful.  Seeing people cut and stabbed will give anyone a great deal of respect for the dangerousness of an edged weapon.

The UK does many things that we do not or should not do. An example is pursuit/emergency driving. In the UK this driving training takes about 7-10 weeks to accomplish, in Arizona, the instructor school is 2 weeks. In the UK, it also takes place on public roadways, in unmarked vehicles with no lights or siren. These vehicles will break speed limits and other traffic laws routinely as part of this training when everyone else around them is going on their daily business. Seven to ten weeks of training is far more than what officers in Arizona get. How would you feel about young officers in training speeding and blowing through red lights with no lights or siren in unmarked cars on the same streets as your loved ones as they are going to work or school?

Intentionally, it has been mentioned two other times in this article that officers are required to qualify at least once a year with their duty handgun. Technically it is to be “on demand”,  meaning that, at any moment, they must be able to shoot a standard AZPOST qualification course while performing at the  minimum acceptable level. The minimum acceptable level means that an officer can shoot a score equal to or greater than 210 out of a possible 250. This is conducted on a stationary target while shooting at distances ranging from 3-25 yards. Does that strike you as odd? Wouldn’t one think that a tool that may have to be used to save a life by running the risk of taking a life needs to be trained and tested more frequently?

According to the U.S. Department of Justice “Census of State and Local Law Enforcement Training Academies, 2002” the average of firearms training time in an academy training environment  is 60 hours. Recruits with previous firearms experience and those with absolutely no experience must go through this training. These hours are a vital part of their training. They learn about loading/unloading, disassembly, cleaning, fixing malfunctions, fundamentals of marksmanship, and the 4 cardinal firearms safety rules.

This academy training is about how to shoot, it is not training that focuses on when or when not to shoot. This training is about getting guns out of holsters and triggers pulled as quickly and accurately as possible. It does not focus on preventing gunfights by establishing positions of strength that set officers up for success. These training hours are predominately conducted in a sterile training environment on a square range with the entire class standing shoulder to shoulder and firing at a stationary target. It is vital to understand one important concept that, as humans, in high stress, deadly force encounters,  we do not always “rise to the occasion”. In fact, we will typically default to our lowest level of training. Does standing on a range firing in one direction at a stationary target not moving behind something that stops bullets, not moving at all, or not using the environment build the skills we want? The case law on this has stated that Officer’s firearms training should include moving targets, Officer movement, low light/diminished light, residential area concerns, and must include stress.  (Tuttle vs. Oklahoma, 728 F. 2d 456 (10TH CIR 1984), Popow vs. City of Margate, 476 F SUPP. 1237 (D.N.J.  1979), City of Canton Ohio vs. Harris, 489 U.S.  378, 109 S. CT. 1197 (1989))

Proper training is absolutely necessary for officers to succeed. By succeeding I mean they perform to the highest of their ability and act in the best interest of the community, and officers are part of that community. The best interest of the community is in the best interest of the Officer. Using force only when it is reasonable to do so, protecting the health and the lives of all we come in contact with when we can. The question that has to be asked is: Are we as a community giving our law enforcement officers the correct type, amount and frequency of training needed to succeed with the expectations we have of them?

The answer is most cases is an overwhelming …NO.  Those that work in education will tell you that when money is tight, the first programs to get cut are art, PE, and music. These are deemed to be acceptable programs to cut because many view them as ‘fluff’ or non-essential programs since they don’t deal with reading, writing,  arithmetic or other hard subjects such as languages, sciences or literature etc.

There are similar corollaries in law enforcement. When money gets tight on a police department, the training budget is usually one of the first if not the first of the sacrificial lambs. This is not to say a police department will cease to train.  What usually happens is that a department, in order to save money, will begin to do the bare bones minimal training that will allow them to squeak by under state law.  Just one of the ways this is accomplished is by slashing ammo budgets which eliminates the ability to conduct much needed firearms training. Departments will also curtail training in other areas in the interest of saving time and training budgets.  There is a saying for this called being “penny wise and pound foolish”.  Any cop that has been on for a few years or more can tell you that you either pay on the front end or you can pay big time on the back end in the form of costly litigation and financial settlements.

It is extremely dangerous when this condition happens because it then incurs increased risk and liability for individual officers, police departments, municipalities and the citizens we serve.

Cities and the citizens that live in them need to secure the funds needed to conduct proper training at proper intervals.  This ensures that we have officers with the requisite training to maintain proper levels of professionalism and competency.  The problem in today’s day and age is everyone wants cops that are competent, smart, well-trained and proficient in a variety of law enforcement disciplines but few know what it really takes and want to pay the money required.

Police Use of Force Part II: The Human Factors

Part I of this series dealt with the legal parameters that makes up the frame work for an officers use of force. These included case law such as Graham vs. Connor, State Law and police department policies. One of the concepts set in Graham vs Connor and Arizona State Law as well as that of many other states was that of “reasonableness”.

What can we reasonably expect from officers when it comes to use of force? What can we “reasonably” expect from the average human being? We cannot expect perfection from anyone. Perfection is an unattainable ideal, it should be our goal but not our expectation. We also cannot accept actions born from prejudice or malice. There is also a difference of an error in judgement and an error in perception. To appropriately analyze the “reasonableness” of police use for force we have to look at the limits and frailties of human performance.

The human body is an amazing organism made up of multiple complex systems. Our five senses and endocrine system (hormones) are brought into play in a use of force dynamic. Under stressful conditions Information floods in through all of our senses. An Officers ears pick up information transmitted over the radio or provided by a witness. Their eyes take in information as they approach the scene or when they are actually in the event. All of this information is then processed by the brain. The brain comes up with reactions or a “motor programs” on how to respond given the information that has been processed. These “motor programs” involve a complex interaction of the muscles of the body, the eyes, and multiple sections of the brain.

The stress of deadly force encounters cause an activation of sections of our brain responsible for experiencing and expressing emotion. This resides is the limbic system. This system is made of multiple parts such as the thalamus, the amygdala, and the hippocampus.  Stimulation of these areas can cause a cascading chemical response that will increase heart rate, increase respiration, increase strength, increase endurance, and cause pupil dilation. There is an opposite effect in other areas. We will experience a decrease in fine motor skills as well as decrease in cognitive function. The phrase “scared out of my mind” is not that far off of what can occur. Many will understand this whole process better as an activation of the “fight or flight” response.

From an evolutionary perspective the “flight or fight” response prepared us as humans to perform at high levels in “primal combat”. These types of events involved gross motor skills such as running, kicking, punching, clubbing, etc. These types of movements benefit from the stimulation of what is often referred to as our primitive brain and the changes in the body that occur as a result of the given situation. However, under high stress complex and fine motor skills are negatively affected as is the ability to engage in complex decision making. Deadly force encounters are complex and difficult to navigate, and to pick the best option we need our ability to engage in complex decision making. There is a great article on stress and decision making that is hosted at the Center for Disease Control website it and can be found here.

Under high level of stress the ability to problem solve (decision making) can be compromised when we need it most. The best way to mitigate this is through rigorous training. Training that puts the officer in stressful environments and forces them to make decisions and use the skills they need. This concept of “stress inoculation” in police training is vital in getting the best outcomes when it matters most. Training will be discussed in part 3 of this series.

Many of our decisions are based on the visual sensory information we take in. There are actually two components to the process of ‘seeing’. The first is the sensory aspect of light being transmitted to our eyes. This is affected by lighting conditions and other factors. The amount of light and the direction of light are two aspects to this step in the process. The second is the cognitive aspect of how our brain interprets this information.  Each of this have strengths and limitations.

We think we “see” everything our eyes fall upon. In reality we don’t. How many times have you been looking for the set of keys that is right on the counter in front of you? This is a simple example of our brain missing things in the world even though we should “see” them. Another example of our brain taking information or interpreting it incorrectly is found in sleight of hand magic. We all know what we see is physically impossible in these magic tricks.  Our brain interprets what it “sees” and tries to make sense of it. Sleight of hand magic is not the same as a police shooting, but it does point out the limitations of our vision and how our brain can be tricked to see things that later we know did not or could not happen.

After a deadly force encounter officers will conduct a scene walk through. It is where they will tell the Criminal Investigator and the Police Investigator (Internal Affairs/Professional Standards) what happened. There are times that an officer has to respond “I don’t know” to some of the questions. These questions may be about what later was established as a fact that unfolded in front of the officer. It is not that they are lying or being misleading, they legitimately may not have seen what could be captured on a body camera they wore. We don’t see everything in front of us. As an example, grab a magazine and hold it 18 inches to the side of your head, then ask someone 10 feet away to focus on looking at your nose but try to read the name of the magazine. We don’t have focus vision (foveal vision) on everything in front of us, our focused vison only covers a narrow span of about 1-3 degrees around what we look directly at. This 1-3 degrees of focused (foveal) vision is about the size of a silver dollar held at arm’s length. If we don’t look directly at it, we don’t see the detail or may not see it at all.

Another phrase that is sometimes discussed is “tunnel vision”. It is less about “tunnel vision” and more about changes in our awareness or “attentional blindness”. In a high stress encounter our brain will filter out what it deems not important and focus on details it values most or believes is most critical to our survival.

There is a great article about vision titled “Is it a gun? Or is it a wallet? Perceptual factors in police shootings of unarmed suspects. ” from Dr. Green. This article speaks to the cognitive aspects of vision that is far too extensive to cover here.

As a society, we expect police officers to go in to highly difficult and stressful situations that would cause them or anyone to fear for their safety. This fear drastically effects the way they see, understand and respond to the world around them.

How long does it take an officer to pull a trigger on a gun? How long does it take an officer to stop pulling the trigger once his brain has started the motor program to start shooting until the threat is no longer there?  The Force Science Research Center testing has shown that officers can cycle a trigger on a gun in .25 or ¼ of a second. That means that an officer could fire 4 rounds in a second. At least one valley agency has video of an officer firing 10 center hits on a range target at a distance of seven yards that was only exposed to the officer for 2 seconds. If you factor in a response time to the moment the target being presented of .4 (four tenths) of a second, that means this officer cycled the trigger on his gun every .16 (16 hundreths) of a second. Scientific research has shown the average eye blink is .3 to .4 (3-4 tenths) of a second. This is relevant due to a recent a video showing an officer involved shooting where the subject and the officer are off screen for about 2 seconds. In that particular instance the  prosecutor  stated that there  was no way for the shooting to happen during  the two second time frame as the officer claimed because (in the prosecutors opinion) an officer cannot draw and fire his gun twice in that time frame.

The human body is capable of amazing things. Feats of strength, agility and endurance that seem almost superhuman. This physical performance is awe inspiring in sports, and terrifying when it is in the form of human violence. Some may like the violence that is created for TV/movies but it is not real. Real human violence is visceral, it is hard to watch, and it disturbs us at our core. The reality is that real human violence looks ugly to normal healthy people.

Even “objectively reasonable” force is not always palatable and may not be easy to watch. Many times when we see this violence it causes strong feelings in us, we are in disbelief, we want to rationalize, and we believe there must have been a better way. Some individuals that are violent can be persuaded to stop eventually. These violent subjects have to be able and willing to listen and then choose to stop, but this takes time. The only way to immediately stop human violence requires the use of force equal to or greater than that being exerted by the suspect. This usually comes in the form of the police combining the elements of speed, surprise, and violence of action to dominate and control the situation. To put this in the most basic of terms the only way to immediately stop and control a violent person is with overwhelming violence.

During citizen academy presentations, where videos of officer involved shootings are presented a typical response is “why didn’t the officer just shoot the subject in the arm or in the leg?” This is a noble question from a person who recognizes the sanctity of life, they are just misguided in the understanding of these deadly encounters. Intentionally shooting someone in a small exposed area like the leg, or attempting to shoot a weapon out of a person’s hand is an unbelievably difficult task. The stress levels that occur in a use of force encounter causes chemical releases in the human body that alter our vision and can make it hard to focus on the sights of the gun. These same chemicals that increase our strength now work against us in correctly manipulating the 5 pound trigger on the pistol without moving the sights off target. Police use of force incidents are fluid, dynamic, rapidly changing events that can often begin and end in the span of seconds. They are chaotic and involve parties that are often armed with weapons and who have stated or demonstrated their intent to harm or kill others.  There is movement, yelling and screaming, oftentimes compounded with innocent bystanders being close by, sometimes compounded by bad weather and limited visibility.  Add to this mix that the involved officer knows the stakes are high and the end game could be either him, an innocent person, or the suspect lying dead in the street. What happens if the officer misses that leg, hand or arm and the bullet hits an innocent person? Shooting someone in the leg is in no way a guarantee that they will stop their violence. The internet is full of videos where people are shot multiple times and continue to fight. These people may be dying, but they do not always stop.

The Supreme Court, in deciding Graham v. Connor, understood that officers have to make these types of decisions in “tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving” situations. “Not every push or shove later deemed unnecessary in the light of a judge’s chambers” violates the 4th amendment. They also understood it is so much easier to make these decisions with the luxury of “20/20 hindsight”, they clarified that it is not appropriate or fair to judge an officers actions from that perspective. It is easy to see and make the most correct, less injurious, best decision when you have all of the needed information, are sipping on a coffee and face no personal risk. It is altogether different when you are ‘in the moment’ and have precious few seconds to evaluate and then make a split second decision that could seriously injure or kill another human being or cost you your life.

Police Use of Force Part I: An Officer’s Perspective

Police use of force has been a hot topic for a number of years, and allegations of excessive force continue to generate headlines across the nation. The apparent prevalence of these allegations has resulted in feelings of fear, disbelief, and mistrust within our communities. While there is no question that some of the allegations are accurate, many of them involve incidents in which the officers’ actions are legally and morally justified. Nevertheless, some officers have been vilified by some and their careers unfairly destroyed. So how do we, as a society, distinguish between excessive force and that which is justified under the law?

The reality is that an officer’s actions in a particular use of force incident are being judged by a society that, all too often, does not understand the dynamics of a police use of force incident or the legal standard for determining whether an officer’s actions are appropriate. And the blame for that reality falls squarely on the shoulders of the law enforcement agencies. Law enforcement agencies have done an inadequate job at educating the communities they serve as to how and why police use of force incidents occur. And that may be because even they do not know or fully understand. In fact, during a recent court hearing, a former Arizona Chief of Police testified that he had never heard of Graham v. Connor. This is highly concerning because Graham v. Connor is a landmark case that established the legal standard governing all police use of force incidents. A case that, certainly, all high-ranking law enforcement officials should be aware of and familiar with.

This article is the first in a three-part series intended to increase knowledge in this area. The series will explain an officer’s legal authority to use force, explore the factors that play into an officer’s decision to use force, and provide insight as to how officers are trained to respond in what can quickly become life-threatening situations.

In the effort of full transparency, I want to disclose a few points. I am a police officer, and I have been for 19 years. That does shape my view and influence my perspective on these incidents. I am also recognized as a subject-matter expert in the State of Arizona in the areas of police use of force, arrest and control tactics, and firearms. Over the years, I have taught multiple instructor courses for the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training (“AZPOST”) Board, which is the governing organization that certifies police officers. I have also taught courses at multiple police academies. I have instructed extensively on active shooter and active threat response, response to suicide bombers, Taser, and verbal de-escalation and control. I have testified about the reasonableness of officers’ actions at numerous court and other legal proceedings, both “for” and “against” the officer. I have a strong science background and graduated with honors in Exercise and Sports Science, with a concentration in physiology and biochemistry. I am one of the original founders of the Arizona Tactical Officers Association, which is the State of Arizona’s SWAT association, and I served as the association’s Secretary for five years. My background establishes my credibility to some and my bias to others, and I accept that.

Officers are required to use a variety of force options in the performance of their jobs. These options, listed in the order of risk of injury (low to high), include: Officer Presence, Verbal Control/Commands, Soft Empty Hand Control, Hard Empty Hand Control, Intermediate Weapons, and Deadly Force. Each of these options have options within them. For example, the Intermediate Weapons category includes pepper spray, Tasers, impact weapons, and the use of police service dog. Whether officers are justified in using each of these options is governed by case law, State law, and internal department policy.

As mentioned previously, Graham v. Connor, a decision by the United States Supreme Court, established the legal standard that continues to govern all police use of force incidents. The Graham Court held that all claims that law enforcement officers have used excessive force—deadly or not—in the course of an arrest, investigatory stop, or other ‘seizure’ of a free citizen should be analyzed under the Fourth Amendment and its ‘reasonableness’ standard .

Put yourself in the position of an officer investigating a possible robbery. You see a vehicle pull up to a convenience store. The passenger quickly enters the store, within moments he then quickly exits the store, and the vehicle with all occupants’ speeds off. When the passenger exited the store you saw that something was not quite right and this appears to be a robbery. On contact with the vehicle, the passenger claims he is a diabetic, you have no formal medical training but in your career you have had lots of people make wild claims in an effort to get out of trouble. Your training and experience has shown many times a store robbery involves weapons. You are trying to contact the store and you can’t let the vehicle or the passengers leave until you know that there was or was not a crime.

In the Graham case, Dethorn Graham was a diabetic and in the midst of a diabetic episode. He asked his friend to drive him to a store to get something that would help his blood sugar. They arrived at the store and Graham quickly enters the store and after a moment realizes that the line is not moving at the rate he needs and abruptly leaves the store, he gets back in the car and tells his friend to drive off. A nearby officer sees the vehicle quickly pull up to a store a hurried subject run in then that subject run out and the car speed off. To a reasonable officer this action looks like they just witnessed a robbery.

What happens if the subject becomes irrational or combative? Knowing he is a diabetic prior to hearing the story makes it simple to understand and easy to decide a course of action. The choice is very easy when you look back via the luxury of 20/20 hindsight. But officers don’t have that magic power. It is easy to make the “perfect” decision when you have all of correct information, plenty of time to decide, with no fear stemming from the potential disastrous outcomes.

The Graham case established that police use of force should be analyzed under the objective reasonableness standard of the Fourth Amendment. Thus, It also established a three-pronged test to be used in evaluating the reasonableness of a particular use of force. These are: What was the severity of the crime at issue? Does the suspect pose an immediate threat to the safety of the officer or others? Was the subject resisting arrest or trying to evade arrest by flight (fleeing to prevent capture)?  These factors are used to evaluate an officer’s use of force. One of the vital points that came out of this case is the concept of “Objective Reasonableness”.

The definition of objectively reasonable is not easy to establish nor is it subject to a mechanical application. The definition that I have used in community presentations is “Would a reasonable and prudent officer facing the same or similar circumstance behave in the same or similar manner?” This is the “reasonable person” concept applied to the reasonable officer perspective. It is important to understand that different officers would handle the same situation in different ways based on their training and experience. If an officer is faced with someone who has been drinking heavily and has decided to assault the officer a reasonable response could be the use of OC, Taser, Impact Weapon or Empty Hand control. These are all different force options but all potentially reasonable based on the totality of the circumstance.

The Graham decision also clarified that an officers actions don’t have to be “right” they have to be “reasonable”. Officers are human and subject to the same limitations that all humans have. (These human limitations will be discussed further in part 2 of this series.) The Supreme Court recognized that officers are human and that they cannot be held to a standard that does not allow for errors. These errors must be reasonable and not the result of poor judgment or poor use of tactics. The Graham decision established that “Not every push or shove even if later it may seem unnecessary in the peace of a Judge’s chambers, violates the fourth amendment.” The courts have recognized that officers have to make decisions in “tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving situations.”

Put yourself in the place of an officer working to meet the needs of her husband and twin boys. One night, she responds to a call of a man with a gun. She sees a person step out of the shadows holding a gun. The officer repeatedly commands the subject to drop the gun. Instead of complying, the person quickly raises the gun towards the officer and establishes a shooting stance. What would you do in the officer’s shoes? You are facing a person with the means to kill you, they have demonstrated their intent by pointing the weapon at you. Is it reasonable for an officer to shoot a subject that is pointing a weapon at the officer? What if the weapon later turns out to be a toy? What if the subject is later established to be mentally disabled? This would be a highly tragic situation, but is it reasonable? The officer was incorrect in identifying the replica weapon as real threat, but this is a tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving situation. Any reasonable person would believe it was a weapon they were facing and would fear for their life. Officers get paid to take calculated risks, not foolish risks and they don’t get paid to get injured or to die.

State Law also provides the foundation of police use of force. In Arizona, it is found Arizona Revised Statutes (ARS) 13-409 and 13-410 which cover the use of force and the use of deadly force in Law Enforcement. Complete documentation on these state laws can be found online.

The use of deadly force in law enforcement has multiple components. This article will focus on ARS 13-410.C.1. This section deals with defense of self and others. The use of deadly force by an officer is justified to defend themselves or another when the officer “reasonable believes to be the use or imminent use of deadly physical force”. Again the concept of reasonableness plays into the justification of use of force.

This reasonableness of the force must be judged from the perceptive of being in the officers shoes at the time the force is used. It is not appropriate to judge the officers’ actions based on the luxury of 20/20 hindsight. We have to judge the officers’ actions based on what they knew or reasonably believed at the time the force is used.  The concept of “imminent” is also important in this. Imminent does not mean that it is happing right now, imminent means “about to happen”. If an aggressive subject is moving toward a table that has a gun on it and trying to arm themselves against the officer, the officer does not have to wait until the subject has the weapon to use deadly force to stop him.

Police department policies also govern use of force of an officer. The intent of department policy is to provide more specific guidelines in various use of force situations or options that the officer has. These policies generally mirror State and Federal law as it applies to “reasonableness”. Policy may be more specific than current State or Federal standards but it cannot contradict them.  Policies can cover the use of specific force options as in how and when to use an intermediate weapon. Most police agencies realize that they cannot expect a strict adherence to policy, and will clearly establish they are a guideline. The reason for this is that no policy can cover every possible circumstance an officer may face.

It is critical that these policies are in line with the officers’ training.  Just as important the training must support the ability to adhere to the policy. The policy must also be lawful and reasonable. Creating a policy that states “officers must not fire their weapon unless they are being shot at or subject is actively shooting at someone else” is not reasonable. This is not what society would want. If a subject has a weapon pointing at your loved one, do you want the officer to wait till the subject pulls the trigger?

An example of questionable policy is “officers shall not shoot at a moving vehicle.” On the surface this policy seems reasonable. Bullets don’t stop cars and bullets can deflect off of the surfaces of the car.  But, what if a subject is driving on the sidewalk running over pedestrians how else does the officer stop the driver immediately? This language, or an example of, currently resides in many police department policies. The real problem that created this policy language is not the shooting at the vehicle, the problem occurs when an officer unnecessarily places themselves in front of a vehicle that is capable of movement or already in movement and being there creates jeopardy for the officer. The policy and training should guide officers away from this self-created jeopardy. But writing it in a policy and not providing appropriate quality training is a mistake. An agency may be able to say “we have a policy that states…” but if the training does not support what is stated in policy then it is not enough. The training must support the needs of the officer and the community they serve.

Policy is vital for officers to support the needs of the community. Some agencies let political influence or the “flavor of the month” topic sway policy. Other may create policy in a bubble without input from outside sources. Both of these approaches are wrong. The “we are the police” and we know best mentality is not appropriate or just. Communities’ members and true experts need to be part of the policy process. It is a three way partnership: Community, Agency, and officers. They all have vested interest in having solid workable policy.

Evaluating the appropriateness of police use of force is very difficult. Federal law, State law, and Department policy provide the rules and the framework for use of force.  When we analyze the adherence to this framework it has to be done objectively and reasonably. That reasonableness must be from the perspective of someone that has the experience and training that an officer has and from the officer’s perspective at the time of the incident. Officers should be held to a high standard which takes into account the sanctity of all life, including their own. Sir Robert Peel is considered the father of modern policing. One of his principles is that the “police are the public and the public are the police”. It is not us versus them, we are all in this together. We are a community and the police are part of it.

Shop With a Cop

It’s that time of year for the PPOA Charities Shop with a Cop event! This Saturday, December 9th, members of the Peoria Police Department and The Peoria Police Officer’s Association will be helping selected children from our community have a very merry Christmas. This is a favorite event for everyone involved! Thanks to our community sponsors and partners for enabling us to help these children and have a positive influence of these children’s lives!

Happy Holidays!

The men and women of the Peoria Police Officers Association want to wish the community we so proudly serve an very Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy Holidays!

We hope you are able to take the time and hold those dear to you close and focus on the blessings you have.

Shop With a Cop

The Peoria Police Officers Association Charities did another fantastic job establishing partnerships with the community to put together the annual “Shop With a Cop”. 50 kids that may not have had a Christmas were able to, with the help of the community, buy presents for their families.

So many of you came together to make this happen. Kohls, Home Depot, Western Towing, to only name a few. There are many more that we will be giving a big thank you to.

Peoria POA Mannequin Challenge

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Peer Support Sample

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Peoria PD, union clash over staffing, response times

A disagreement about officer turnover rates and emergency response times in Peoria have boiled over into a public feud among the police union, the Peoria Police Department and that city’s officials.

Public complaints from the Peoria Police Officers Association in late July about the department’s direction sparked the dispute between the union and the city, with both sides refuting the other’s data about police staffing and response times.

Peoria Police Chief Roy Minter says violent crime in the city is down and the department has hired officers to keep response times stable, but union leaders disagree.

“I’ve been at this city for 23 years. We’ve never had officers leave like this,” said Officer David Adams, a senior representative for the Peoria police union. “The city has said Peoria is a destination for officers. That is a bold-faced lie.”

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