New Use Of Force Principles Could Be Dangerous

We started hearing about the attempts to change police use of force standards some time ago.  Whether it was CNN, the New York Times or even the President, the chatter has been getting louder and louder. We have been saying it for some time but if the talk turns into action, the safety of law enforcement could be at a real risk.

At a Police Executive Research Forum Meeting (PERF) several months ago, they discussed that even if an officer’s use of force was deemed legal under the law, they believed that agencies should adopt stricter standards and even cited the Ferguson incident as an example of this.

The Michael Brown incident should have never occurred PERF surmised.  Yes, Brown was walking in the middle of the street after committing a violent robbery and yes Officer Darren Wilson drove up to him (not knowing the robbery occurred) and asked him to get out of the roadway which caused Brown to attack Wilson and the ensuing altercation would end in the use of deadly force.   But those facts and the actions of the violent suspect doesn’t seem to matter to PERF.  They believed that Wilson’s tactics were wrong and that he should have never approached Brown alone.

Really?  So now an officer can see someone walking down the middle of the street and they shouldn’t be able to tell them what common sense looks like?  Welcome to law enforcement where the so called policy makers have never made a decision in a police uniform!

We can laugh at the suggestion above but you cannot laugh at last week’s PERF Meeting where over 200 law enforcement leaders met in Washington DC to review and discuss suggested “guiding principles” that would radically change how law enforcement has enacted force for decades.

Chuck Wexlar, the Director of PERF, calls some current force “lawful but awful” and his group has set out to change the business of law enforcement that has been built on decades of decisions by the United States Supreme Court and lower court rulings.  I doubt Mr. Wexlar and I would agree on much on this issue but I do agree that using force is “awful.”  The media paints a narrative that cops are just a bunch of blood thirsty criminals that get up in the morning wishing they could shoot someone.  For the most part, they have been successful with that message.  I have been asked more in the last 12 months “how many people” do I shoot than I’ve been asked for the 20 years before that.

We can all survive with the media and they are who they are but now we have PERF that will soon release a report on 30 principles of force that agencies across the land will be asked and then possibly forced to submit to.

Here is why they must not

The overlying umbrella in these principles is the fact that the United States Supreme Court Case, Graham v. Connor (1989), is a good common sense case for law enforcement.  It states that officers must be judged on what a “reasonable” officer would do with the information they know at the time and there is a caveat that officers are often forced to make “split second decisions.”  The case also discusses the fact that the “underlying intent or motivation” of the suspect should have nothing to do with the decision an officer must make.

If a kid points a gun at cops in a park and deadly force is used, the fact he is a kid and the gun was a toy has nothing to do with the judgment of those officers.  Why?  Because it is not their job to know the intent or motivation of others.  It is their job to protect lives, including theirs, based on the information they know at the time.  It’s “awful” as Wexlar would say and no one would argue with that but it should be lawful because the next time a kid points a gun at cops it could real and cops could die.

PERF and many others do not like the Graham v. Connor case.  It doesn’t matter that it has been challenged countless times since 1989 with no avail.  What matters is that the standard is lowered so more cops are prosecuted and even worse, more die.

Read the IACP Statement here.



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  1. Marco Palombo, Jr.

    It seems the most important component not addressed by PERF when comparing and contrasting US and UK descision making models like in the use of force is the Second Amendment. American Police must cope with a society that has nearly unfettered access to firearms. The number of firearms sold, seized and utilized in crimes in the US dwarfs those in the UK. There is ample empirical evidence to support this and to suggest otherwise is humorous at best. While I agree with PERF that UOF models in the UK would change the dialogue toward US law enforcement and perhaps take that first big leap in re-establishing community trust, the simple reality is that to do so would be to pretend that there is an absence of legal and illegal firearms in the theater. Injuries, loss of life and confidence in the police to be able to do their jobs are all very likely outcomes. This includes the uncertainty that must be factored into those critical decisions PO’s must make within fractions of a second. The Second Amendment isn’t likely to change, and even if it did, the millions of firearms in the US will not suddenly evaporate. Contrasting and comparing police use of force in the US and UK is little more than an intellectual exercise that should have revealed these significant factors. However well intentioned the recommendations may be, it’s just apples and oranges. Marco Palombo, Jr.

  2. Rick

    PERF goes beyond the epitome of progressive “justice” and attempts to implement their psychosis in the functioning of law enforcement. Law enforcement is just that, enforcement of law.The judgements and actions of police officers are rooted and governed by that law, not the public’s view or a group of psychotic’s version of justice. Applying PERF’s logic to the public you would say, “if someone wants to rape you, you she should let them”. If someone invades your home and attacks you, let them”. PERF appears designed to stop officer’s doing their job or get them killed. It is clear that PERF is based on the supposition that all law enforcement is corrupt, racist, and based solely only the principal of “white privilege”. US attorney Holder made that clear and this is just the logical outcome.

  3. J ONeill

    Mr Odze, I’m a bit confused? Your saying any use of force on a cuffed suspect is unacceptable? I have personally been involved with cuffed suspects who severely bit one officer and another kicked out the knee of another resulting in permanent disability. You Sir sound just like countless other Chiefs who would throw an officer under the bus without fully researching an incident.
    Hope your words were misinterpreted.

  4. Eldon

    Sounds like the PERF’ers were given orders from higher up. Similar to the POST commission in Missouri that mandated new training rules on Missouri Peace Officers. The Academies gave the Commission some sound advice and other options to improve training, but in the end we had to do what the Governor wanted. Some agencies with smaller budgets and less manpower may have trouble meeting the new standards. What happens then?

  5. jon gutmacher

    As an attorney with law enforcement and prosecutorial experience, as well as being one of very few attorneys later having a substantial plaintiff’s police liability practice (suing law enforcement) at one time — I am still shocked and astounded at the political backlash when cops are singled out, criticized, and vilified — just for doing their job. It seems every minority feels it is entitled to “special privileges” and disparate treatment. While there may be “alternatives” to using deadly force — those alternatives often involve putting a police officer’s life in extreme risk. If the risk is taken — that should be based on the officer’s personal discretion, training, and experience. But, to second guess a dangerous, life-or-death situation, and enact strict regulations that will defeat that training, knowledge, and experience — makes no sense — at least, where it is clear that a suspect is armed with a deadly weapon, and within the zone of danger. Either law enforcement will be allowed to “police” the streets, and protect themselves as needed, without “politically correct” regulations — or chaos will be the result.

  6. Alan

    I am glad I retired 10 years ago I cold not work under the current anti-police mentality permeating the country from the golfer-in-chief on down. This is what happens when you put 60’s radicals in charge.

  7. Gary spillman

    Who is this Chuck Wexlar, and what are his credentials? I am sure glad I am retired now. 25 years was enough and would not want to be working with all of this crap.

  8. D.E. Clark

    With all due respect to the editor, saying that the meeting included “over 200 law enforcement leaders” is being too polite. I think it was actually a gathering of politicians, ivory-tower academics, and assorted wonks, some of whom might occupy executive positions in law enforcement agencies.
    Any of them who might have actually made a decision while wearing a police uniform either have forgotten about “pucker factors,” or never decided anything more critical than where to take their meal break.

    • Thomas Downes

      Well put! The problem is there are genuinely violent people out there, and some of them will have to be stopped by violence. It is ugly, not like Hollywood, but it is absolutely necessary sometimes. It is astonishing how the facts do not matter to some people, only what they choose to believe. “There are none so blind as those who refuse to see.”

  9. Mike

    I have sent in my comments in an email earlier today. I could not go through the entire 30 point agenda. I have said numerous times that these non law enforcement or minimal “Having been there” types that somehow end up in supervision and now begin to dictate what policy becomes or as in this case with this group, now is attempting to dictate nationally what the recommended policies should be.
    My concern is that there is beginning to be a push to force local law enforcement towards a type of national federalization.
    Law enforcement is becoming not only more hazardous but, who in their right mind will want to work a job with its inherent dangers and the possibility of civil or criminal charges for doing the job. I feel saddened with what I see coming, I am fearful for those new officers, who with the current public perception may hesitate at the moment of truth.

  10. Kim Yamashita

    I agree! Experts from all over the country have, countless times, proven that concepts such as the 21st rule (which PERF wants to change by the way) is still viable, if not too short a distance. Asking officers to back up and create distance sounds good, unless you are trying to walk backwards, or run backwards, in the dark, under stress, and dealing with obstacles you can’t see.

    What needs to happen is a change to the political climate and that needs to start with the leaders of agency’s. Stop apologizing when your officers do the right thing for the right reason. It is awful when we have to use force. It is however, simply a response to someone else actions, lets try holding the defendants responsible for the decisions that they make.

  11. J. Allen

    Absolutely correct and I agree with everything said in this article. The biggest problem still remains with those making decisions who have never walked the walk.

  12. James S.

    If one reviews the Michael Brown store video, it is revealed that no robbery occurred. It appeared to a customer that one did, resulting in the 911 call. Nevertheless, the officer could not physically catch or restrain Brown. The officer did not change his tactics and provoked a showdown. He did not wait for back-up and the shooting was guaranteed. Police management everywhere have to face that undersize, out of shape, older or female officers may not be able to physically or charismatically stop an individual. As long as there is insistence on officers handling their own problems, these shootings will continue. Since management everywhere fell down on the job in their response to the Ferguson incident, the press, Black Lives Matter, public opinion and this PERF group will dictate policy. Look up the video of the Seattle migrant shooting to see another example of police not changing their tactics, guaranteeing a shooting.

    • Eric F

      Wait for backup to tell someone to stop walking in the middle of the street? Why would you consider needing backup to tell someone to stop walking in the middle of the street? Please stop trolling a website dedicated to intelligent conversation.

    • F. Frank

      Stole cigars. If he had run out the door, it would be classified as Retail Theft or Shoplifting. He used physical force against the store employee in order to deprive the owner of property. Strong Arm Robbery… all day long. Maybe not where you come from?

      You would suggest that after being assaulted and having had an attempted disarm, that the officer should just lock himself in his car… drive away maybe and wait for back up? Because confronting and chasing violent criminals who have just demonstrated that they are a violent threat and a risk to the safety of the public at large forces a shooting?

  13. Wade Keener

    Great article. I agree completely. Thank You for this!

  14. AJ Odze

    As a 30 year police veteran (chief for 15 of those 30 years) I have to say that a judge ruled that police can use force even after a suspect is in custody and not resisting. Judge Sortino of the Orange County Supreme Court determined that a police officer in the state of New York, County of Orange can commit unlawful use of force in this situation. Sortino based her bizarre decision on Graham v Conner. Its this blistering decision from the Court that confuse cops and police departments. However, as a chief, if any of my men would have used force upon a suspect already cuffed they would be facing termination and I would personally demand they be prosecuted for unlawful use of force. The use of force continuum of NYPD is the most accurate to date . Many of us that were with NYPD and went on to become chief’s in other departments brought this use of force continuum with us. Case in point was in Birmingham AL when Arthur Van Dorsch became the chief of that department as did John Timmony when he went to Philly and Miami.

    • RB

      So a suspect actively fighting that is in cuffs is not enough for use of force? Maybe I’m misunderstanding what you were trying to say but there are times when force is needed with a cuffed suspect. Attempting break patrol car windows, actively resisting, biting, spitting, etc.

  15. Joe

    This is what happens when the Gramscian Marxist march through our societies institutions arrives at our police departments. It is designed to change them from protecting individual property and lives to enforcers of social justice and redistribution of wealth, and no doubt soon to be enforcers of speech and thought codes, as they now are in Europe and Britain.

  16. Ed Coyle

    As a 32 plus year veteran of law enforcement, I never second guess what actions an officer takes at the time of the incident or what puts that officer in “concern” or “fear” that they then decide that action must be taken. Like all of us, we then do our due diligence to review every aspect of the incident for our own decision making processes and to counter those who will try to control the message, such as BLM. I am concerned when academics without experience of day to day patrol activities try to form a use of force model which will be used as a black or white model for all “use of force” incidents, when we have all experienced that gray that is law enforcement. The question is who is FUNDING this project with PERF and is that the underlying reason the project is being undertaken. The project seems to be in furtherance of the “un-policing” of America movement.

  17. Colin Comer

    I have been in law enforcement, one way or another, for 37+ years, at local and state levels, in three states, and am a police academy Director. I have also been a firearms and defensive tactics instructor for many years. I know about the threat of a knife wielding bad guy within 21 feet, (or more?), but I have NEVER, ANYWHERE, heard anyone teach that you should automatically shoot someone who has a knife and is within 21 feet.

    Is this actually being taught somewhere? ‘Gun out and ready’ is a wise move in that situation, but I have never heard of the “21 foot rule” as is being attributed to us, and is currently being protested, until recent months.

    I’d really like to know if anyone was actually teaching this “21 foot rule”, or if this is just one more witch hunt allegation in which PERF is going along instead of revealing the truth.

    • M.C. Williams

      I am a former academy instructor and continue to teach use-of-force with nearly 3 decades on “the job.” No one is taught that we “automatically shoot someone who has a knife and is within 21 feet.” What I have been taught and what I continue to teach is that someone wielding a knife who decides to attack an officer can get to him from 21 feet (I would say even further, depending on the officer’s skills) before the officer can draw and put rounds on target (and of course a perp does not fly backward or stop their attack with a single round unless that round severs the brain stem or spinal cord). A knife attack is always a deadly physical force scenario.

    • F. Frank

      No. It’s not being taught.

      It is a convenient anecdote he uses, because he is either ignorant of the topic or wishes to identify with the ignorance of the people who seek him out.

      I would not want my Sheriff or my Chief teaching people about Use of Force. They are administrators, not subject matter experts. Wex is talking out of his sphere of expertise.

  18. Mark

    “The “reasonableness” of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.” So PERF suggests that now Officers must not only be responsible for knowing the law of the land but we must also be able to determine when our actions will considered “lawful but awful”. Policies that contradict legal precedent make an Officer’s already difficult job even more so.

  19. Kevin

    You are spot on Travis. This is political correctness at its worst. My solution: Call Chuck Wexlar when you have an out-of-control suspect (especially if it a homeless or mentally ill person). He is obviously the expert on how to handle such matters. What a total moron.

  20. John

    All this politcal correctness needs to stop. PERF does not like the 1989 case, but that is the law.
    I retired from SoCal in 1979 and we did not like Miranda either, but we adjusted and held to it. I worked the L.A. and East L.A. riots and the bad guys are more prevalent now than back then. It was kick butt and take names and most of the crooks respected what we had to do. So, if up and coming LEO’s want to be educated social workers, more power to them. I do not recommend being a LEO to anyone these days.
    When socializing back in the day, folks would ask what kind of work did I do. I told then I was a Behavioral Modification Expert for the city. They thought that was interesting. When they asked about the job in detail, I would explain that when people broke the law (behavior) I would simply book them in the county jail. (Modify the behavior and I was expert at my job)

  21. Kevin King

    I attended the first PERF “conference” on this matter. It was very clear from the beginning that there was an agenda. Only speakers that were pre-vetted or that were specially brought in were able to speak. One of the first things Mr. Wexler did was attack the 21 foot rule, totally distorting it, and stating that officer are taught to always shoot anyone that is armed that is within 21 feet. They also compared the US to England and Scotland, bringing in speakers from these countries, as if it were apples to apples. It was disgusting. While I agree with many of the reports recommendations, others have no basis in reality or research and are only misinformed opinions.

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