There has been a great deal of discussion recently regarding the fact that many law enforcement professionals hesitate to use force when justified to do so. This hesitation runs the full gambit of use of force. So why dare officers reluctant to use force, especially deadly force when they are clearly justified to do so?
I do not believe there is one right right answer here or one single reason. My concern is that many officers are trained to hesitate and are actually programmed to be afraid to use reasonable and necessary levels of force.
Now, most trainers will argue with me and swear they do not train their officers to be afraid to use force or to hesitate. I do not believe that most trainers do this intentionally, but I believe it is being done.
How are officers being trained to hesitate? By teaching officers what not to do. By telling officers if you do X, Y or Z you are going to get sued, you will get fired, you will lose your house, your car, your pension, etc. You have all heard the speech in a use of force class and some of you have given the ‘get sued and lose the house speech’.
This fear mongering causes officers to hesitate. This unreasonable fear of liability results in officers being afraid to use force that is reasonable and necessary to protect themselves, fellow officers and community they have sworn to protect.
Why do I say it is an unreasonable fear of liability? I have asked thousands of officers across North America how many of them have heard the ‘liability speech’ and almost every hand goes up. When I ask them how many of them know an officer who was held personally liable in a law suit for a reasonable application of force and lost their house as a result, not a single hand goes up. When I ask them how many know an officer who lost a house to a marriage gone bad they all raise their hands. Now, I am not suggesting marriage is evil or dangerous (My wife and I have been married, to each other, for over 31 years. In cop talk she is my first wife and my current wife.) My point is that thousands of officers have been programmed to be afraid of something that is likely never going to happen. Fear leads to hesitation and reluctance to use appropriate force. Can you stop people from suing you? No. Might you get sued during your career? Yes. Ok, now that is out of the way let’s look at the solution.
The solution is simple. Create competent and confident officers by:
- Teach officers what they can do, and when they can do it.
- Train so that officers have the confidence to do it immediately.
- Train in context as much as possible. This means training in environments similar to what they will encounter in the field rather than always training in a wide open, fully lit training room.
- Teach officer the art of articulation. Teach them how to tell a story (stories have context, details and emotion) that describes the totality of circumstances and why what they did was reasonable for them based on the totality of circumstances.
If this seems too simplistic, it is because it is simple. There is a difference between simple and easy. Simple means lack of complexity while easy means lack of effort. These strategies are simple, not easy. It takes work on your part to create and deliver training focused on instilling competence and confidence. The easy thing to do is what you have always done. The easy thing to do is just focus on teaching techniques with no context. The easy thing to do is keep giving the fear of liability lecture. Easy however, gets officers hurt and killed.
Just remember to teach them what they can do, when they can do it, give them the confidence top do it immediately and the ability to articulate it.