When can law enforcement use force?
February 28, 2012
Law enforcement use of force is a necessary way of enforcing social order and community safety when people are unwilling to cooperate with law enforcement officers. Law enforcement are only authorized to use it when they need to compel an unwilling person to become compliant with the officer’s demands. This can occur in a variety of circumstances, such as when making an arrest, conducting a search, dealing with a domestic dispute, or when subduing a drunk and disorderly person.
Law enforcement use of force is rated on a scale of necessity. The least severe use of force is verbal coercion, in which the officers attempt to talk the subject into compliance. The next level is physical restraint, such as forcing the subject to the ground and handcuffing them. The next level is non-lethal force such as using a baton or a taser. Lethal force would be use of a firearm and is only used as a last resort.
Law enforcement use of force is governed by strict rules. An attempt by the officer should be made to limit the amount of injury to the subject by using the minimum amount of force to deal with the situation. Law enforcement officers must also make sure that physical aid is rendered to individuals injured with use of force. They also need to notify the relatives of any injured individuals.
Each department has its own rules and guidelines regarding the law enforcement use of force. These guidelines depend on federal and state laws; past experiences involving use of force; and the viability of force tactics in dealing with common law enforcement situations in that jurisdiction. In areas where law enforcement officers are often in threatening, violent situations, guidelines may include more forceful tactics and relaxed standards on use of force.
The incidence of law enforcement use of force is relatively rare. Studies show that law enforcement use force in about four out of 10,000 service calls. That amounts to .04% of the time. Of those events, deterrents such as pepper spray were used 7% of the time and firearms were used 5% of the time. 38% of suspects were injured in those incidents and 10% of law enforcement officers sustained injuries.
Most officers have no desire to employ the law enforcement use of force to harm the people they come in contact with while doing their job. However, they will use force if they need to in order to protect themselves and the public and carry out their duty to enforce laws and prevent crimes.