If you teach control tactics, defensive tactics, officer safety, use of force or firearms you will get asked questions by members of your agency, the public and possibly on the stand as the department trainer or expert regarding an officers actions in a situation. Here are some thoughts for you to consider.
“Depends” is the initial answer to most use of force questions like, “Is it reasonable to punch a handcuffed prisoner?” or “Is it reasonable to shoot an unarmed person?” Like so many questions people ask about use of force they think there is a yes or no answer. Neither of these questions offer enough information for you to determine the reasonableness of punching or shooting the subject. After “depends” you need to ask a lot of questions to determine the totality of circumstances.
The standard is reasonableness, not what you taught. When someone calls and asks if you teach a specific technique my advice is to get more information before you answer. Find out if they are investigating a use of force incident and if so ask questions to help them understand totality of circumstances. The law does not say the officer can only use techniques you taught them, it says they have to be acting reasonably.
The standard is reasonable force based on totality of circumstances, not minimal amount of force. As my friend and mentor John Bostain from Command Presence talks about in his class Decision Making: The Foundation of Reasonable Force, the definition of minimum is “barely adequate”.
Be cautious of doing a use of force file review from the perspective of “What would I have done?” No one cares what you think you would have done. The best you can do is speculate. You are being asked for an opinion on whether or not the officer’s actions were reasonable, for them, at that moment in time, based on the totality of circumstances.
Video never tells the whole story so please do not make a decision on the reasonableness of an officer’s actions based on video alone. Video is only ever two dimensional and your officers function in a three dimensional world. Video will never capture what the officer sees, feels, or percieves. Video does not interpret what it records. You officer will interpret what he or she is experiencing. Video does not feel fear or other emotions and has no training or experience. Your officers do. Video does not experience inattentional blindness; humans do. Video is not impacted by the effects of stress. Your officers are.
Two critical elements of officer safety and use of force instruction that are often neglected are Decision Making and Articulation. Make sure you teach these elements along with the law, techniques, tactics, principles and concepts.
Just attending a DT or firearms instructor course or recertification is not enough. You need to educate yourself about all elements of human performance in dynamic events. If you teach any aspect of use of force then you must subscribe to the Force Science Newsletter. At the very least you should attend a two day Force Science Institute seminar and ideally should make the investment to attend the five day certification course. Find other classes on use of force taught by credible trainers. I would highly recommend any course taught by Command Presence.
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