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Use of Force Options

Written by David Standen

Police officers possess various skills and utilize a number of tools in order to get the job done. Each of these tools, which can include OC Spray, baton, TASER, or handguns, provides the officer with force options. These options allow the officer to deal with the wide range of risks and subject’s actions associated with arrest situations.

Each of these tools has a specific goal. Some of the tools’ goals are very specific while others overlap within specific force levels. No one tool can or should be used against all levels of resistance. They all have a job based on our “reasonableness” standard.

It is important that we recognize the roll of each of these tools and understand their individual importance. We must recognize each of their strengths and weaknesses and how, as a complete “work belt’, they offer officers the ability to work from the position of advantage.

OC as a Distraction

OC is a simple tool that can play a significant roll in certain arrest situations. As a force option, officers must learn that an OC spray is just one part of a complete arrest process. Training scenarios should include one officer and two officer arrest situations where the end result is that the subject is handcuffed and controlled. What have we prepared our officers to do by simplistic OC training that begins and ends with pointing an aerosol can at an imaginary target and pushing the actuator?

We also need to train officers how to handle an ineffective OC spray. What do we expect our officers to do if they spray someone and it doesn’t work? Officers need to be trained in the art of moving, transitioning to another force option and that the re-spraying of the OC are tactical responses to an ineffective OC spray. We cannot allow officers to believe that OC is any more effective than it really is.

This mindset can also be addressed by getting officers to recognize the function of this tool. OC is not a control and restraint technique. When a subject is sprayed, they still need to be controlled and then handcuffed. We should be instilling in the minds of our officers that OC is nothing more than a distraction technique. Train them that the goal of a well placed OC Spray is to temporarily distract the subject long enough for control and handcuffing to take place. With this mindset, an officer better understands how OC can be more effectively utilized in certain arrest situations but not over estimate its usefulness.

Batons: Multi-Purpose Tool

The use of the police baton is still a very important tool. Unfortunately, the use of the baton as a force option has been a very visible example of misuse and poor training. Most Americans have a preconceived notion about how the police use their batons. Several, very high profile cases involving the use of the baton, which were shown over and over again, shaped the opinions of a new audience, while reinforcing the stereotypes of many others concerning how the police use handle (or misuse) the baton.

We must look to expand the roll of the baton within the arrest process. The first of those techniques that are generally dropped by trainers and not used by officers on the “street’ are the one dimensional techniques. We, as instructors limit the baton’s usefulness when we instruct officers to use it only as a swinging, striking implement against a subject standing three to four feet away from the officer.

Most officers on the street would consider three to four feet of distance a luxury. Most violent physical encounters happen “up close and personal.” Many of these situations occur in environments where the officer does not have the space to utilize the long, swinging strikes. This is confirmed by most “street” officers who profess that a “long stick” is an inappropriate option when a call brings the officer into a house, an apartment or those other places where the space is limited.

We need to train officers that the baton can be used when the distance is within the three foot range. Officers need to know that they can defend themselves and counter with the baton when the fight is in close. Baton skills that mirror or are similar to our empty hand skills, are more likely to be used in a physical encounter, and should be taught to officers.

When the baton is used as an impact weapon, the technique needs to work for the officer. Many of the problems associated with the police baton are due to ineffective baton strikes. Ineffective strikes usually lead to multiple strikes, and multiple strikes lend to the belief that the force used was excessive. We need to teach officers that when they use the baton as an impact tool they need to strike with enough power to “stop” the subject. Eliminate those strikes that only generate power from the arm and shoulder and focus on those strikes that use the likes of shoulder hips or body rotation, to generate power.

We should also make the baton a more transitional skill. We minimize the effectiveness of many skills (OC, baton, Taser, etc) by training them as stand alone techniques. If officers are only trained to use the baton as an impact tool, they most likely will not be prepared to complete the arrest. We need to train officers that a baton strike is only a piece of the arrest process. We need to train officers not only how to strike a subject with the baton but what do with the baton after the subject has been stopped.

They should be trained to use the baton to control and restrain the subject in the same manner that they would use empty hand skills. The additional leverage gained by using the baton as a controlling technique can help all officers establish control over subjects who may be larger or stronger than the officer.

Finally, there must be a clear understanding when each baton skill can be used. Train officers to draw out their baton when they perceive the risk to be harmful. Condition officers that when they get the fight in progress call or when the officer recognizes the subjects actions as being a prelude to an assault (such as rolling up the sleeves, fighting stance, clenched fists) that they need to get the baton out and ready to use. Train them that when the officer perceives an assault that they need to act immediately. Let them know that if they use the baton as a controlling technique, that it is at the same force level as the empty hand controlling techniques. Make sure that they understand the “whens” along with the “hows.”

Taser as Part of the Process

The Taser is an incredible tool that affects both the sensory and motor nervous systems.

When the probes hit a subject, the electrical current overrides the central nervous system and achieves incapacitation. The high volts but low amps equate to safe and effective less than lethal force option. Those of us who have taken a “ride” with the Taser realize its true stopping power.

Taser, like all the other force options on the officer’s tool belt, is just another force option. It does not replace any other tool. There are times when the Taser is “the” force option to use and there are other times when another force option would be more appropriate.

Training in the Taser should be conducted in the same manner as all the other force options, — as part of the arrest process. Teach officers how to “fire” the Taser and then train them how to control and handcuff the subject as soon as it is possible. It is not enough to say “don’t touch between the probes” or “don’t touch the wires.” We must train officer that when a subject is incapacitated during the five-second cycle, that this is the time where control should be established. Failure to do so can lead to a subject receiving additional and potentially unnecessary additional “hits” from the Taser.

The use of the Taser is one of those situations where two officer arrest techniques need to be a primary skill. This process allows for one officer fire the Taser and the other to control the subject. This allows for the officers to create a recognized officer advantage, while establishing a recognized subject disadvantage. This tactical advantage should be the premise for all arrest skills training. When this two-on-one advantage is not available, then officers must be trained how to gain a similar advantage from a one-on-one position.

Where does the Taser fit within the use of force model? Do your homework. Evaluate the Taser in the same manner that you do every other force option. Is it an impact tool? Consider that two metal darts are “fired” at a subject and can penetrate the body. What is the resultant injury from a person falling to the ground as a result of a Taser “hit.” Are the injuries that have occurred because of this uncontrolled fall equal to the risk that was presented to the officer at the time of the arrest? Should a passively resistant subject (no physical actions used to assist their non-compliance) be “tazed,” for instance?

When we look at these force-related questions, we need to do so without the “cop think” mindset. We as officer can justify and rationalize just about all that we do. But are considerations have to include what the public thinks, how juries and judges have acted with similar issues in our area as well as the political climate (conservative, liberal) of our state or region. We need to balance officer safety, public acceptance and defensibility of the tool when we look to answer this question.

Taser training must also be conducted as part of an arrest process. It is not enough to fire a few cartridges or to load and re-load cartridges in the weapon. Officers must be trained how to fire the Taser, how a subject would likely fall when “hit” by the Taser and how to control and handcuff as soon as it is possible.

Officers need to be trained to move in and make the arrest. They cannot be left with the thought that the only and most practical tactic to stand there, screaming out commands, and puling the trigger every time the subject does not immediately respond. This may be the response in some circumstances, but multiple hits is probably not practical (or reasonable) for all arrest situations. As with all force options, make it part of an arrest process.

Remember Hands-On

No matter what “tool” an officer uses, there still comes a time when the officer has to go “hands-on.” Many situations require that hands-on skills be the first choice. Unfortunately, empty hand skills get less and less attention because of all the tools we have at our disposal.

Many agencies and training organizations create blocks of training that all but ignore hands on skills all together. They may mention that hands on skills could be used but officers do not get the chance to put it all together. The assumption is that officers will connect the tool with hands on skills. Do we think they are doing this when called to respond during an arrest situation? When was the last time that we re-certified or re-trained officers in control tactics to handcuffing?

Hands-on training needs to be part of any and all force-related training that is conducted. Take advantage of the precious training time that we are allotted for hands on training. If officers are to be re-certified or re-trained in the use of OC, make sure that an OC Spray is followed by subject control and handcuffing. This same training mindset should be applied when officers train to use a baton strike, a Taser Drive Stun or any other force option.

In order to complete the training, officers should follow the skill to its logical end, in other words handcuffing to complete training. All force training should be based on “completing the arrest.” This is how we can insure that officers know how to utilize the tools and complete the project.

Options, Not Elimination

When some departments look to add a tool to the officer’s tool belt, they also have to eliminate another. When OC was seen as a legitimate force option many agencies made the decision to take away the officers’ batons. With the implementation of the Taser, a number of departments are making similar decisions and looking to eliminate the OC and baton.

Officers need all these options. Certain situations call for the officer to use OC while others require the officer to grab onto the subject in order to gain control. Sometimes the only thing that will stop a subject is a decisive strike with a baton while other situations deem the Taser as the most appropriate tool. Use your own use of force model or continuum and decide where each tool fits.

The final decision regarding tools an officer has at his disposal needs to be based on options and proper training. These options, and the training that goes along with them, needs to be based on sound training materials and the appropriate policies and procedures to back them up. The administration needs to be well informed as to the importance of each of these tools and they have to be on the “same page” with those of the trainers. Educate and train so that officers have a complete tool belt that will allow them to complete all of the arrests they are asked to complete.

David A. Standen has been a police officer for twenty-six years. As a police officer with the Springfield (MA) Police Department he has worked patrol, with the DEA Task Force and as an Academy Instructor assigned as the Recruit Training Coordinator and primary Defensive Tactics Instructor. He is the Defensive Coordinator for the Municipal Police Training Committee, which is the State agency responsible for Police Training and Standards for all municipal Police Departments in Massachusetts.

Published in Law and Order, Aug 2005

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