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 or

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

RonBorsch March 28, 2011 at 4:02 pm

Alan John has given us a nice piece of work on the proper use of force. His article is a keeper. Professional law enforcement officers should place a copy in their personal use of force support file for future reference.

Enlightened trainers have long stated “If you have the right to hit them, you have the right to hit them hard so it works the first time”! This is safer for both the officer and the offender.

Surprise, speed and violence of action are ingredients to victory that have been proven by successful use over centuries. Unfortunately, the concept works as well for the bad guys as it does for law enforcement.

Many American law enforcement agencies and officers have become over invested in their firearms training, at the expense of neglecting their empty hand and less lethal belt-tool skills.

Frequency and recency of quality training in overcoming arrest resistance and defending less lethally is the answer to many questions. The best kind of training is dynamic and with an end goal, or TEST, to see if the training took.

Tightly scripted simulation scenarios with protective combat suits, safety officers, and offender role-players allows both the officer and his agency to assess where their officers are at and what further training may be necessary.

These simulations may be best conducted in “Hooded Drills” (SpartanCops “Rebooting the OODA Loop” ). The scenarios should be as safe and realistic as possible. Video taping is recommended for officer feedback and debriefing.

“No risk, no reality”! Risk of injury is ever present, but the good news is most injuries are relatively minor, (and often personal fitness related). When appropriate risk is accepted in training, more severe injuries in the street are reduced. “The more we sweat in training, the less we bleed in the street”!

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Steve Odom March 30, 2011 at 4:37 am

I thought this was an excellent article. I totally agree with Alan John in this matter. When applied to the “OODA loop” or “Color Code of Awareness” one should emphasize the following points: when you switch from condition “Orange” to condition “Red” (in the Color Code of Awareness) it is time to FIGHT. When you move from “Decide” to “Act” (in the OODA Loop) you must do so with 100% commitment. At this stage of the encounter it is time to commit with speed, surprise and violence of action. I liked Alan Johns’ analogy of the light switch vs. the rheostat.

I do not have any medical studies or medical training to back up my position but I personally believe that many cases of “Excited Delirium” and “Positional Asphyxia” might be avoided if Peace Officers had a very high level of training in combatives, and used a proper level of force, quickly and efficiently to effect an arrest on a combative suspect.

Most Departments, Officers and Deputies rely on tools and gadgets to solve “use of force” problems. We need to focus on education and training, not tools in order to have success.

In order to have Peace Officers who are capable of subduing a combative suspect in 3 to 5 seconds they will need the proper mindset, a considerable amount of training in combatives, and a demanding strength and conditioning program. The vast majority of Peace Officers will never commit to this level of training because the falsely believe that the have a “magic talisman” like a handgun, Taser or baton that can be deployed (effectively, under stress with minimal training) against a dedicated adversary. This reliance on tools rather than skill, knowledge and athletic ability is part of the flawed mind set that also needs to be addressed.

This is an excellent article that points out the reality of “use of force” incidents and a “best practices” ideology that should be embraced. The sad reality is that very, very few administrators would ever embrace this ideal or include it (in writing) as part of a training outline, policy or operational directive.

If you are involved in a “use of force” incident you would be wise to follow the advice offered by Alan John.

Paul Carlson March 30, 2011 at 5:06 pm

Awesome Article!

There is very little else that needs to be said. Hopefully administrators will begin to adopt this type of attitude to help protect the officers on the street. Officers on the street need to prioritize until administrators have a change of heart. It is not desirable to be disciplined, or relieved of duty. It is less desirable to be dead.

Again, good work!

Bruce B Smith June 22, 2011 at 8:34 pm

The key points I remember from this and have Lived by are if you hit give it all you got from the start. Dont stop to the administration understands and supports.

B. Admin November 24, 2011 at 10:43 am

I found your site researching “Violence of Action” on the web. First of all, Thank You. I have bookmarked and shared with LEO’s I know. In reading this article however, I found myself angry with the following statement;
“Public opinion has been affected by these incidents and a public that once stood behind law enforcement…”
I think the blanket statement “and a Public that once stood behind” is BS. Let’s not generalize. I have interacted with LEO’s that respected the “general public”, “Me” in conducting their duty. You guys/gals have a hard job, my hat is off to You. But one thing you need to realize is that a great deal of the General Public is behind “Law Abiding” Officer’s. The Officer’s that get pissed off and escalate the intimidation and use of force when a citizen knows his rights and wont be tricked into Search are the one’s that ruin it for the “Good Cop’s”. When an officer is unapproachable, rude, demeaning, and attempts to violate my civil rights, That’s When Problems Begin. I served in the U.S.M.C., I took the Oath, I can provide cover fire or suppressing fire.
We need to work together, Many more of us that support the badge, than those wearing it.

Ken August 27, 2013 at 12:51 pm

I have ALWAYS been a great supporter of our men in blue. It is the current “Men in Black” with military gear who use force of violence in unnecessary situations which is getting people on both sides killed.
Police are turning into Thugs rather than the law enforcement offers they were hired to be.
I do not know the answer, but more violence is not the answer.
Shoot the criminal dead when necessary, but make sure you are dealing with a criminal. What is better – an “accidental” death of an innocent citizen or the death of an officer in the line of duty?
Yes, I have many friends in law enforcement. They agree with me, law enforcement is a dangerous job AND their primary duty is to protect citizens, not kill someone “just in case”…
God Bless our Law Enforcement Officers who subscribe to the former and not the latter.
The greatest injustice is when those who are sworn to serve and protect become thugs instead of upholding the law.

morrigan September 23, 2014 at 2:18 am

The law is a means, fair in the heart
Morality is the core upgrade

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