Use of Force: Taking Policing to a Higher Standard, 30 Guiding Principles

Use of Force: Taking Policing to a Higher Standard, 30 Guiding Principles (March 2016).

The report presents 30 Guiding Principles on Use of Force that are designed to provide officers with guidance and options, and to reduce unnecessary uses of force in situations that do not involve suspects armed with firearms. . . . Hundreds of police professionals at all ranks, as well as mental health officials and other experts, contributed to this project.

The Guiding Principles are organized into four areas:

Policy: Thirteen of the principles deal with policy, including embracing the sanctity of human life, adopting de-escalation as agency policy, establishing a duty to intervene with officers who may be using excessive force, prohibiting firing at moving vehicles, and documentation and reporting requirements for use-of-force incidents.

Training and Tactics: Eleven of the principles relate to training and tactics in use of force. A major focus here is on de-escalation strategies (especially communications); using distance, cover, and time when appropriate; ensuring a strong supervisory response; and training as teams when possible. continued from page 22 26 — Why We Need To Challenge Conventional Thinking On Police Use of Force

Equipment: Four of the principles pertain to equipment, in particular less lethal options such as chemical spray and Electronic Control Weapons. PERF also recommends that agencies make greater use of personal protection shields to increase officer safety during de-escalation efforts.

Information Exchange: The last two Guiding Principles involve training for call-takers and dispatchers, who are critical to every police response, and educating family members of people with mental illness on what to report when they call 9-1-1. Some of the Guiding Principles have been adopted by many police agencies for years or even decades. For example, Guiding Principle #8 provides that shooting at a moving vehicle should be prohibited unless deadly physical force is being used against an officer or another person by means other than the moving vehicle itself. As noted earlier, the New York City Police Department adopted this policy in 1972, at a time when NYPD officers were involved in nearly 1,000 shooting incidents a year. Immediately after the policy took effect, those numbers dropped sharply, with a 33-percent reduction in shooting incidents in 1973, and have declined steadily ever since, dropping below 100 officer-involved shootings per year in recent years.37 Importantly, the numbers of NYPD officers injured or killed in the line of duty have also declined significantly since the policy was adopted, with no indication that officer safety was in any way jeopardized by the change in policy.38 Similarly, Principle #6, establishing a duty to intervene when officers see colleagues using excessive force, is similar to policies established in New York in the 1990s, as well as other agencies.

Other Guiding Principles will be new to some agencies, such as the first principle, which encourages departments to adopt policies or mission statements stating that the sanctity of all human life is the cornerstone of policing.

Using a critical decision-making model to guide the police response to critical incidents, as Guiding Principle #5 recommends, will also be a new approach for many agencies. In some cases, the concepts may exist informally, but have never been stated explicitly in agency policy. Other principles build on existing polices in many agencies.

For example, Guiding Principle #19 calls for comprehensive crisis intervention training of officers, to help them manage situations involving persons with mental illness or other conditions that cause them to behave erratically. The “Memphis Model” of Crisis Intervention Teams (CIT) dates to the late 1980s, and has been adopted to varying degrees by many police agencies. However, PERF’s research for this project uncovered a gap in crisis intervention training, namely, that it provides an important focus on officers’ communication skills, but does not provide guidance on how officers should combine communications.

Taken together, PERF’s 30 Guiding Principles represent a new way of approaching many critical incidents for some agencies, and for other agencies, a reaffirmation and strengthening of their current policies. We are calling on agencies to discard outdated concepts, and to consider new approaches that can help defuse some critical incidents in ways that protect officers, the persons they encounter, and the general public.

This report proposes some fundamental shifts in the way police think about use of force and in their policies, training, tactics, and equipment. Embracing, implementing, and sustaining these efforts will not be easy or simple.

See full report at

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