A lot has been written and discussed over the past few years about the value of use of force models. John Bostain from FLETC makes a case to stop using models and recently wrote a very good article for Calibre Press Street Survival Newsline. John and I have discussed this issue at length over the years.
The reality however, is that models have been used, are currently being used and will continue to be used by a number of agencies across North America for some time.
Personally I am not convinced models are the real issue here. Like most issues I believe it is delivery, not content that is the real issue. I believe it is how we teach the models that either creates problems or makes it simply another teaching tool.
I see two main problem with how use of force models or continuums are taught.
- They are taught too early in training.
- Trainers use them as a crutch to ensure students get the answer right on the test.
Too often the models are taught at the start of training in control tactics. There are a number of inherent problems with this. First the information in the model is an abstract concept to new officers. Until they have some frame of reference that comes from experience they are simply attempting to memorize definitions of subject categories and use of force options. The term and the definition of ‘active resistance’ or anything else on the model are abstract concepts.
The next concern with this placement of the material is that during the officers control tactics training the instructors continually ask officers “What category of subject can you use this technique (or weapon) with?” I believe this is done to reenforce the model but also to help officers get that question right on the written exam. The problem with these questions is that they lead themselves to short answers and the officers begin to simply link the subject behavior category with the force response option. There is no evaluation, no decision making and no ability to articulate why what they did was reasonable and necessary based on the totality of circumstances.At the start of training the legal parameters for use of force are also abstract concepts,.
What may be more effective is to teach behaviors and options, behaviors and options, behavior and options. Better questions when teaching a technique or the use of an intermediate weapon would be “What type of behaviors from a subject would make it reasonable to use this force option?” and “What other options do you have based on those subject behaviors?” These questions put the emphasis on the behaviors of the subject and allow officers to understand what options they have to control behaviors. The legal aspects of use of force can be interspersed with the ‘behaviors and options’ teaching. This allows trainers to make the abstract concepts of use of force concrete for the officers.
Once they have been trained in behaviors and options then we can sit them down and let them know how that fits into the model should they be asked that question on the stand. The models can serve as visual aides for the visual learners in the class and in the jury box, provided they are taught properly.
Like all subject matter we can be too quick to look for blame in the model, the topic or the curriculum. If we step back, look in the mirror and ask ourselves “What do I need to do differently to help them learn this?” we may come up with some solutions that have to do with delivery, not content. Delivery is often what will help us make the abstract concrete for officers.