National Police Association on Police Use-of-Force in America Today
(Photo : National Police Association)

"Police use physical force to the extent necessary to secure observance of the law or to restore order only when the exercise of persuasion, advice, and warning is found to be insufficient."

- Sir Robert Peel, "Principles of Law Enforcement"

In the wake of the murder trial and the recent verdict of Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis Policeman who was charged with the murder of George Floyd last summer, a spotlight continues to shine on the ethical nature of the practices and policies of police squads across our country. One particular behavior that is getting a lot of attention is the policies surrounding police 'use of force' and particularly the training law enforcement officers are receiving around the issue at the beginning of their careers at Police Academy as well as continuing education received by all seasoned officers on the force.

The Many Definitions of... Use-of-Force 

Wikipedia - Use-of-force, in the context of law enforcement, may be defined as the "amount of effort required by police to compel compliance by an unwilling subject". 

National Institute of Justice - Broadly speaking, the use of force by law enforcement officers becomes necessary and is permitted under specific circumstances, such as in self-defense or in defense of another individual or group.

Seattle.gov - An Officer Will Use Only Force That Is Objectively Reasonable, Necessary, and Proportional to the Threat or Resistance of a Subject

Police Data Initiative - The use of force can generally be defined as the means of compelling compliance or overcoming resistance to an officer's command(s) in order to protect life or property or to take a person into custody. 

UCLA Police Department - This policy recognizes that the use of force by law enforcement requires constant evaluation. Even at its lowest level, the use of force is a serious responsibility. The purpose of this policy is to provide officers of the UCLA Police Department with guidelines on the reasonable use of force. While there is no way to specify the exact amount or type of reasonable force to be applied in any situation, each officer is expected to use these guidelines to make such decisions in a professional, impartial and reasonable manner.

National Police Association - If someone doesn't comply with a lawful order, or uses force against the officer, the officer may have to use sufficient force in response in order to obtain compliance.

Use of Force Data Collection Can Change the Game for Law Enforcement

The NYPD (New York Police Department) has collected data on firearm discharges since 1971 and data tracking general uses of force in arrest situations since 1983. It wasn't until 2007 that the department began to publish its Annual Firearms Discharge Report.  This report was the precursor to the most current report which began publication in 2016 called the Annual Use of Force Report.  They amassed data on the use of force cases since 1971, but it was only recently that the  NYPD began tracking and publishing a comprehensive use of force report to allow the public to see. 

As of October of 2019, the NYPD categorized all incidents involving the use of force into four different levels for their data analysis and annual reports:

Level of Force Use Reported

Type of Force

Physical Acts it Entails

Level 1

Physical Force/Less-Lethal Device

...the use of hand strikes, foot strikes, forcible takedowns, wrestling/grappling, the discharge of OC spray, the discharge of a CEW in "cartridge mode," and the use of mesh restraining blankets to secure subjects.

Level 2

Use of Impact Weapon/Canine/Less Lethal Device

... the intentional striking of a person with any object (including batons and other blunt instruments), a police canine bite, and the discharge of a CEW in "drive stun" mode.

Level 3

Use of Deadly Physical Force, except Firearm

...includes the use of physical force that is readily capable of causing death or serious physical injury, except for firearms discharges.

Level 4

Firearm Discharge (Established October 8, 2019)

...any discharge of a firearm by a member of the service or from a firearm belonging to a member of the service. 

There was 8,595 total reportable police 'use of force' incidents in NYC in 2019 (level 3 and 4 grouped together below):

  • Classified Level 1 incidents - 94.4%
  • Level 2 incidents- 3.9%
  • Level 3 incidents - 1.7 %

No Need for Use of Force, Let the Data Be Your Guide

In NYC,  8,595 reported incidents were collected and 11,245 individuals were subjected to police use of force in 2019. Of those subjects: 

  • 97.1% sustained no injuries or minor injuries
  • 169 subjects, or 1.5%, were substantially injured
  • 150, or 1.3%, were seriously injured

In 1971, 314 subjects were shot by police, of which 93 were killed. In comparison, in 2019, 24 subjects were shot by police, of which 11 were killed. This represents a 92% decline in subjects shot by police and an 88% decline in those of which were killed.

As for law enforcement and to report all of the data collected, a total of 4,260, or 20.2%, of the members of the service involved in 2019's force incidents were injured. Of that number, 311, or 7.3%, NYPD personnel involved in 2019's force incidents were substantially or seriously injured. 

The NYPD is a great example of what clear data and good reporting can do for a police force. A 92% decline in subjects shot and an 88% in subjects killed from 1971 to 2019.  Since the first use of force report came out in its current form, the NYPD continues to refine its data collecting processes, they have created a robust internal investigation process for higher-level force use cases as well. Systematic changes to NYPD training procedures are made each year as well based on this report. 

The NYPD is stepping out into the forefront of policing data collection and real effective changes have made for a stronger policing force overall, but not all police forces across the US have access to this type of complex data gathering and analysis. With local governments pulling money out of the hands of our law enforcement in so many major cities across this country, the probability that these cities' police forces will benefit from the same data is next to nothing.  Lines will continually be drawn in our national policing efforts as data collection and training protocol standards continue to see a greater and greater divide in various parts of the country. 

Police Departments can have the most in-depth data systems to track and monitor their teams, but it will never make up for the lack of a national standard of training for use of force protocol and the re-education of the subject that should take place multiple times at many different stages in an officer's career. 

The team of career police officers at the National Police Association advocate for the positive movements of law enforcement across the country and training standards, or the lack thereof, have been discussed on multiple occasions within the ranks of the organization. 

No National Standard of Training for Use of Force Protocol

Primarily, major American cities create and run their own unique police training academies for prospective officers. Smaller cities and units from more rural areas usually team up to train their recruits due to budgetary constraints and the need to share resources.  

Locally-run police academies allow their specific region or city to help shape their training based on the specificities of their community. Regionalization in police training makes perfect sense. If you contour the training to fit your area, you can train your recruits with specific locations and perhaps certain community issues that are only relevant to your area.  Yet, by allowing this primary new officer training to stay locally managed, general standards issues permeate every single police unit in this country like the use of force protocol. This remains only a regionally-developed teaching, allowing for the disparity to persist between training academies across the US without standard unification at the national level.

Without a nationally unifying standard, the job for law enforcement will remain a difficult one. Training these elements of the job would also become a simpler task. And simplifying the training process is much needed based on the sheer amount of tasks and skills a police officer requires to adequately perform their duties. 

"You have to learn everything from how to make a traffic stop to how to deliver a baby," Brantner Smith, a spokesperson for the National Police Association and current police academy training specialist spoke to ABC News about police training back in the good ol' days. "29 years, I learned everything from kind of a jujitsu style of defensive tactics to ground fighting. I learned all these different kinds in 29 years, and it depends on the policy."

Brantner Smith also feels most police academies have moved further from the "stress academy" model, which she said is more "militaristic" and physically demanding. Instead, police academies opt to teach more from an academic POV on many subjects, including defensive strategies, risk assessment, firearms training, and how to de-escalate situations and gather information simultaneously at a new crime scene. 

Police Academy's New Focus on the Mind

Stressing academia can be highly productive as academy trainers can build a mental foundation for recruits around significant issues that should be continually stressed and then taught again to the academy recruits. Topics like the police's relationship to its community, de-escalation training, communication skills, and safe tactics.  New, preventative policing skills like learning effective community policing strategies should be at the center of a recruit's training. Sharpening this skill set in younger officers could be the key to reducing crime or simply preventing it before it starts.

Every Aspect of Police Training Should Still be Handled Thoroughly

These preventative skills, of course, do not simply take the place of more traditional hands-on scenario-based tactical training part of a recruit's education. Police academies will always need mock-environment training rooms fully equipped with precinct station houses, multi-family residences, grocery stores, restaurants, parks, courtrooms, banks, and various roadways. Nothing can take the place of a policeman's tactical abilities.  Recruits should focus on preventative policing skills, but should become experts in the following:

Handgun/Shotgun Use and safety

First Aid/CPR/AED/NARCAN

NHTSA speed measuring device training

Subject control

Impact weapons use and safety

Patrol techniques

Building searches

Stops & approaches

NHTSA standardized field sobriety testing

Hazmat & WMD awareness

Incident command system

National incident management system

Subject-control techniques

Classroom training

Physical training

Scenario-based training

These skills, including the firearm and use of force skillsets, are not taught to police academy recruits because they are the backbone of the job. These skills should be reinforced and kept up by police officers, but only that they be used in the direst of circumstances when everything else fails.

Community Policing vs. Procedural Justice

So, in order for our law enforcement officers to withhold using any type of force until there is absolutely no other choice, there are the skills that need to be taught and ingrained in all recruits and retaught throughout an officer's career. These are the skills they will use in all of those other cases (9.5 times out of every 10 situations) when the use of force is not needed. We will focus on two teachable skills/ideas: Community Policing and Procedural Justice

Community policing is a hot topic for police forces these days. Community policing involves collaborative efforts to develop proactive solutions to underlying community problems rather than responding to incidents on a case-by-case basis. Community Policing is the preventative medicine of the law enforcement world. Community policing may be the outside forces and programs that keep law enforcement from 'getting sick' or using force when unnecessary, but at the root of all of these contemporary programs and policies sits a profound yet relatively new way of thinking about the police's relationship with the general public called the 'pillars of procedural justice.'

National Police Association on Police Use-of-Force in America Today
(Photo : courtesy of the Columbia Missourian)

Community Policing and Procedural Justice when looked at by the civilian eye, hold many of the same values and work toward similar goals. The two models represent distinct approaches to addressing police-community relations. If community policing is preventative medicine for police officers, think of the pillars of procedural justice as the policemen's body and the organs and tissues that sustain our life every day and keep us healthy and smart long before we see the doctor for any extra preventative medicine. 

Procedural justice as a concept is the framework from which all police officers should conduct themselves in every interaction

The Four Pillars of Procedural Justice                                      

These four pillars align with public demands for police to be held accountable equally to ensure the integrity of law enforcement practices.   In 2015, three former officers studied the disconnect between how police judge their own actions and how the public judges their actions. These four pillars were the foundational concepts that when utilized by law enforcement, would bridge the gap of perception and through, positive face-to-face interactions get the community and the police on the same page.

1.     Voice  -  allows members of the community to voice their opinion and feel like their perspectives have been heard; this helps facilitate positive interactions. Giving people a voice helps them feel like active participants in the decision-making process.

2.     Transparency - involves law enforcement authorities sharing processes and rationales behind their decisions at every stage of enforcement. Officers should share how their motives are based on a genuine intention to promote safety and well-being. Acknowledging that police officials are required to keep some information confidential, this aim can be best achieved through transparency of process, policy, and procedure. Transparency can also have the effect of improving perceptions of neutrality.

3.     Fairness - recognizes that community members want to be treated with dignity, regardless of their situation. The quality of interpersonal treatment that individuals experience is important regardless of the particular outcome of their situation, such as an arrest or traffic ticket.

4.     Impartiality - requires that residents perceive police decisions to be made on the basis of legal facts and an objective evaluation of the situation. Officers are expected to refrain from acting on prejudices or biases they may hold. If individuals perceive the police as impartial, they are more likely to believe that their interactions with the police are fair. Conversely, perceptions of bias or a lack of neutrality in decision-making processes can damage public attitudes toward the police.

The President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing report stated, "Sometimes, actions are perfectly permitted by policy, but that does not always mean an officer should take those actions." 

Expanding a policeman's visibility in their community beyond simple acts of law enforcement; such as community engagement, can have a positively profound impact on the relationship between the police officer and all members of the community. 

The National Police Association Stands on the Foundation of Community

You don't have to tell the National Police Association about the impact police-community interaction might cause. All you have to do is scroll through the NPA in the News section on their website at article titles like Cops Get Down and Dirty...on Behalf of Citizens in Need or Courageous Youngsters Learn to be Future Cops or even Cops and Kids Together Display the Heart and Soul of Community Relations During Anti-Police Blitz.  The NPA, from its outset, hoped that this critical interaction between police and members of their community would catch fire. 

Police departments across America should work to avoid zero-tolerance policies, which may have fueled the implicit bias of many citizens. The Four Pillars of Procedural Justice are the building blocks by which we come together as a community and never again need to worry about the use of force from anyone's hand or foot or gun ever again.

Every decorated police officer from the National Police Association to the officers of the NYPD want to see use of force cases circle the drain in every major city in America. The less we see use of force cases appear in the data, the safer the citizens. This also directly affects the safety of the officers that work so hard, train so hard, and fight so hard to keep everyone safe. 

The Counter productivity of the Defund the Police Movement

Use of force training needs an NYPD boost in every other major city in America to give every unit that competitive edge that comes from elite training, pristine data collection, and smart internal upgrades and reworkings that come from better data, better training, and more highly skilled officers. The National Police Association has adamantly and vocally opposed the 'defund the police' movements across the nation in recent years. The NPA knows that defunding the police will only set us back, and make it harder to get the training and the advancements needed to all law enforcement across the country. 

If you want there to be a change when it comes to 'use of force' protocol and training among all new police recruits in the US, we need to start thinking pumping the ahead and pumping the money needed back into our local police forces to give them the shot to be the very best protectors of the public that they can be for all of the nation's citizens.

The National Police Association Speaks Out About the Verdict in Minneapolis

"Derek Chauvin is NOT the face of American law enforcement.  This is a singular event that was widely publicized and politicized.  Tonight, just like every night, 800,000 American police officers will continue to do their jobs regardless of this verdict." Betsy Brantner Smith, the spokesperson for the National Police Association, continued her explanation about the state of policing in America in the wake of the death of George Floyd. 

"There was much discussion about police training during and surrounding the trial, but with very few specifics.  Police officers will continue to train to protect themselves and their communities, and this will continue to include the lawful use of force.  American policing is decentralized by design, with each state controlling the training standards.  Jurisdictions who chose to "defund" their police departments must realize that training is usually one of the first cuts made when budgets are depleted.  "Defunding the police" harms no one more than the communities who depend on law enforcement for protection and other services.  Cities like Minneapolis, Oakland, Portland, and others have already had to "refund" their police departments after taking millions out of their budgets. "  

About the National Police Association

The National Police Association utilizes a dynamic combination of education, assertive legal filings, in-depth investigations, and clear communications to advance a mission of combating the influence of anti-police activists and helping to hold them accountable. We use the law as a method to highlight abuses by antipolice elected officials, change behavior, and seek corrective action. The National Police Association promotes policies that encourage public officials to work with the police in the public interest, not for the benefit of powerful special interests https://nationalpolice.org/.

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