Over the last number of years many agencies have gone away from Use of Force Continuums. Now some agencies are being forced to go back to having a Use of Force Continuum by politicians and special interest groups who lack an understanding of these, like they do with the topics of de-escalation and implicit bias.
In my experience actually having a Use of Force Model may not be as big an issue as is how it is taught, explained and utilized. In this post I will share some of my thoughts on this topic, which apply whether you already have a Continuum or you are being force to go back to having one.
First, see if you can change the name. The term “Continuum” implies that use of force is a stepping stone approach with a logical sequence and progression. That is far from the legal requirements as well as the realities of situations requiring the use of force. The term Use of Force Model is better than Continuum; Subject Behaviour – Officer Response Model is likely even better.
From a visual perspective the circular model like the National Use of Force Framework in Canada may be better that a pyramid or ladder visual. A ladder, pyramid or graph visual gives the same impression as the word continuum. A circular model shows that events are constantly evolving and officers are constantly perceiving, assessing, deciding and acting (or observing, orienting, deciding and acting) throughout the call.
Help people understand that these models are simply a visual aide to assist a judge or jury to understand the range of options available to an officer based on the totality of circumstances. They are not a decision making tool.
An element far too often overlooked by law enforcement critics is the role the subject’s behaviour plays in the response from an officer. The subject always has the ability to follow the law the law and if they choose to break the law and get caught they always have the ability to cooperate with the police. A subject’s choice not to cooperate will generally necessitate the use of force by the police to establish control. The level of resistance, aggression and violence on the part of the subject will determine the level of force necessary for the police to be able to establish control.
During subject control tactics training teach behaviours and options throughout the training. This will help officers understand that they have a range of options based on the subject’s behaviours and the totality of circumstances. Near the end of training you can teach the Subject Behaviour – Officer Response Model / Use of Force Model / Force Continuum and help the officers understand how the concepts of behaviours and options fits into the model. Teaching the model at the start of training and trying to make the training fit the model is what causes many of the issues people have with these models.
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