Use of Force Options

By Nowicki, Ed | Law & Order, February 2001 | Go to article overview

Use of Force Options


Nowicki, Ed, Law & Order


The use of force by law enforcement is much more art than it is science. There are no specific use of force absolutes. The 1989 U. S. Supreme Court decision Graham v. Connor (490 U.S. 386) recognizes that the use of force should use the standard of the reasonable officer when evaluating whether a particular use of force application is reasonable or not. This standard does not mean officers can use any use of force technique they want, simply by stating they are "reasonable officers."

Use of force applications must be broad enough to allow officers to have reasonable options to use in the field. Yet these options must be specific enough to provide parameters for officers to work within. This balancing act between broad and specific may appear to be in direct conflict with each other. The "Use of Force Model" currently in use by the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) provides law enforcement officers with various options they may use as "Enforcement Electives."

The FLETC Model

The FLETC Model categorizes the reasonable officer's perception to how a subject will or will not submit to arrest in one of five levels. In the Compliant Level the subject is cooperative and complies with the officer requests or commands to submit to arrest. Usually, there are not many use of force concerns if a subject complies with the officer, whether this arrest is for a minor ordinance violation or for a violent felony. There still can be allegations that an officer became over aggressive in placing the subject under arrest for a particularly heinous crime or where the officer is emotionally involved, such as following a high speed vehicle pursuit.

In the Resistive (Passive) Level there is no physical energy directed by the subject to the arrest, yet the subject does not follow the officer's commands. Examples to passive resistance can include protestors who will not cooperate with the officer's commands, but do nothing to prevent an officer from grabbing them and placing handcuffs on them. Some force options by the officers include guiding or directing the subjects through "hands-on" techniques.

The Resistive (Active) Level seems to be confusing for some officers. For example, you tell a subject in a motor vehicle that she is under arrest for Operating a Motor Vehicle While Intoxicated. She then grabs the steering wheel and will not let go of it. She doesn't fight, yet she still will not let go. What type of resistance is this? Although some officers say "passive," the fact is that the subject has directed energy and physical strength in resisting the arrest. Thus, this is definitely active resistance and you may use a number of compliance techniques as options to this active resistance. These techniques can include: joint manipulation or restraints; leverage techniques; pressure points; or even an OC spray. Giving the person a warning prior to using any techniques, under proper circumstances, could also be used.

The Assaultive (Bodily Harm) Level is a direct physical attack on officers or others who would likely cause bodily harm. This is a type of attack that would not result in serious bodily injury or death. The options that an officer may use would include: strikes with hands, fists, elbow, knees or kicks; baton strikes; and forcefully directing the subject to the ground.

The Assaultive (Serious Bodily Harm or Death) Level represents the least encountered but most serious threat to an officer's safety. This is the type of attack where officers would believe that themselves or others would be subject to serious bodily injury or death. The appropriate officer response would be deadly force.

Officers may, under the FLETC Model, use any level of force at a lesser level as an option. Officers need to carefully analyze whether a lesser use of force level is appropriate, particularly when balanced against their personal safety. The use of excessive force is a concern, but so should be using inappropriate or too little force. …

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