Violence of Action: When force is legally justified and morally necessary, use it

by Scott on March 28, 2011

Editor’s Note:This is a guest post from Alan John. Alan’s bio is at the end of this article.

In today’s atmosphere of litigation, officers are becoming more hesitant to use force when justified. Could that be the reason more officers are getting injured or killed? 2011 has started out as one of deadliest years for law enforcement officers in the last decade. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 2010 finished with a 37% increase in officers killed in the line of duty.

The fear of getting sued, fired and or disciplined started to rise after the Rodney King incident. Officers watched in horror as police who were trying to do their job and performing as they were trained, were crucified by their department, the media and eventually the courts. The question that begs to be answered is,”Why were they being trained that way”? Police trends ebb and flow over time, and police use of force philosophy has followed the same path. Unfortunately the path has strayed away from the officer being safe and towards the officer failing to take action and getting injured or killed in the process.

Public opinion has been affected by these incidents and a public that once stood behind law enforcement, now looks at every instance through a dash camera, questioning every move they learned on TV last night. Noted defense attorney and son of the famous Gerry Spence, Kent Spence, routinely and comments on the use of force by officers using a Taser or pepper spray as excessive and unjustified. In each instance the critique is questioning why the officer did not just wrestle the suspect down and or use a “wristy twisty” to magically put him in handcuffs instead of hitting him 37 times with a baton (as counted on video).

The use of force policy implemented is generally sound; the force techniques taught to the officers are sound for the most part. What is missing? The missing link is the lack of training to the officer in the urgency and mode of force application – adoption of the justified violence of action mindset. Officers are applying force with hesitancy of action. They know they are justified, but they don’t want to make a mistake and they don’t want to get sued. Their hesitation makes them use their baton half heartedly, which in the long run means they have to use that half-hearted force longer. Looking through the dash camera, the use of force takes longer and looks worse on TV. People question why it took the officer 30 strikes get the suspect to lie down and stop resisting arrest.

Consider this analogy for the application of force; think about force being applied as electricity. Think of the difference between a rheostat and a switch. When you dial up a rheostat, the light bulb becomes brighter slowly. It takes time for it to light the room. When a switch is closed, the room is lit instantly. Similarly, when force is applied gradually, the suspect is able to adjust to the use of force, alter his pain threshold and resist. When you apply force instantly, the switch it’s much more likely you’ll overwhelm his resistance, compelling him to submit much, much more quickly.

What is the solution to this dilemma? The theory of violence of action needs to be applied to use of force in daily police work. Violence of action is the instant, maximum application of the use of force that is legally and morally justified. The use of force should be applied so quickly that instead of the long drawn out series of strikes we view on the dash cam, we see a blur of action and a final image of the suspect piled up on the ground and cuffed within 3-5 seconds. The use of force justification is based on the suspect’s actions. The duration of force application is short, and the injuries to the suspect are limited to the minimum needed to affect the arrest. The visual impression created by the dash cam, witness cam or other recording device in use is one of minimal and effective control.

Explained in detail, “Violence of Action”, means employing the force justified correctly, instantly, and with full impact. It also means transitioning between and coupling together force responses to achieve the goal – custodial arrest. A correctly applied baton strike may lead directly to a leg kick or knee to the leg while the distance is being closed and the suspect is being forced to the ground with a face-down takedown for cuffing. This article is not attempting to change individual defensive tactic maneuvers. Rather, it seeks to change the mindset of how those maneuvers are employed and how they can be coupled together to end a confrontation quickly and favorably.

How do we accomplish this goal? We change the mindset of the administrator first and foremost. We bring in the prosecutor, the civil attorney for the organization and the training staff, and we expose them to the benefits of ending a confrontation quickly and efficiently. We simultaneously train our new recruits and our line officers in the basic academy and in-service training, respectively. We need to make sure there are front-end discussions with our supervisors and training staff. We cannot change training without informing the people who are responsible to review and critique performance.

Although some might think this a radical departure from the current use of force model, it is really just a course correction in the ebb and flow. The end goals are a greater sense of safety for officers on the street, fewer injuries and line-of-duty deaths, and increased public and media support for law enforcement.

About the Author: Alan John

Alan John is a retired Sergeant from the Jackson Police Department in Jackson Hole, Wyoming after 27 years in law enforcement. Alan started his career in San Luis Obispo County in 1983. Alan was a SWAT team member and a team leader for over 15 years and firearms, defensive tactics and use of force instructor as well. As an administrator he developed, wrote, and trained officers and deputies in use of force, report writing and field training.

Alan is a graduate of the FBI National Academy and currently enrolled in the University of Wyoming to finish his degree requirements. He currently works at the Crucible Training in Fredericksburg, Virginia in the Department of State’s CJPS program as a support manager.

Contact Alan John:
307-690-1406
alanjohn614@aol.com or apjohn@team-crucible.com