Law enforcement use of force legislation: what you should know

Law enforcement use of force legislation is something that affects every police officer.  In order to stay within the law, a police officer must have a good understanding of what’s allowable when they have to use force in the field. This article will outline the basics on this important issue.

Every state has its own standards when it comes to law enforcement use of force. These standards define the amount of physical coercion that an officer may employ when making an arrest or subduing a civilian suspect. The general description states that an officer is permitted to use a reasonable amount of force as is needed to make an arrest. But what is the definition of ‘reasonable’ in this case?  In the broadest sense, a reasonable amount of force is the minimum needed to subdue a suspect, protect the officer and make an arrest. 

Law enforcement use of force is something that every patrol officer is confronted with at some point in their career. The decision to use physical coercion should take into account several important considerations, including the amount of resistance that the subject is giving.  Basically, an officer should use just enough force to outmatch whatever resistance the subject is offering. 

When assessing law enforcement use of force, an officer also needs to consider whether the subject has a weapon. If an officer is being threatened with a weapon, they’re allowed to use deadly force to protect themselves and the public.  This extreme use of force must be used only in extreme situations.

Other considerations in assessing law enforcement use of force include the type of arrest, the size of the suspect in comparison to the size of the officer, the number of perpetrators and the number and availability of back-up officers to assist in the arrest.

Law enforcement use of force is a tricky issue, as officers must guarantee civilian safety as well as their own while making difficult decisions in the blink of an eye.  Almost all officers only use physical force when they’re confronted by aggressive or violent people who are threatening public safety.


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