Over the years I have been in a large number of use of force courses and use of force discussions as a student and an instructor. When the topic gets around to the use of deadly force and the options available to officers if they believe they are in a fight for their life I very often hear trainers and officers say that they officer can “Do whatever it takes to win that fight.” I agree with that in principle however, what concerns me is that the discussion often stops there and that should never be acceptable.
If I am teaching the class or leading the discussion I will probe further and ask officers what that means to them, what force response options they have available and what type of things can they do to win the fight? These questions almost always result in generic answers such as:
- Whatever it takes.
- Whatever I need to use to win.
- anything in the environment.
- anything that can cause death or grievous bodily harm.
None of these answers are acceptable. The reason they are not acceptable is that they lack specifics. There is no plan. They have not demonstrated to me that they truly understand the philosophy of ‘Whatever it takes.” If you accept these answers in your class then you may be setting some of your officers up for failure. We must get into specifics. Specifics include, but are not limited to:
- Shooting a subject with the officer’s issued firearms.
- Striking a subject in the head, neck or spine with a baton.
- Striking a subject in the head, neck or spine with a flashlight.
- Striking a subject in the head, neck or spine with a radio.
- Striking a subject in the head, neck or spine with a rock, brick, log or 2 x 4.
- Striking a subject in the throat with a fist, forearm or elbow.
- Gouging a subject’s eye out.
- Stabbing a subject in the face or neck with a pen.
- Running a subject down with a vehicle.
- Throwing a subject off an overpass, balcony or rooftop.
- Using a folding knife that the officer carries as a general purpose utility tool or rescue tool to stab or slash a subject in the throat, neck or other vital area.
These specific focused discussions are important to begin to plant the seeds in the officer’s mind that they can use these tactics in certain circumstances. Some of your officers have thought about it and imagined doing it, others never have and never would without these types of discussions. In the majority of the cases where officers use deadly force against a subject they use their issue firearms. However, there are cases of officers lives being saved because they were willing to use other methods. They were willing to use them because they had considered using them prior to the event.
For the sake of your officers please do not accept generic answers to in these discussions during your class. Ask more questions. Get specifics and set your officers up to succeed.