Modifying use of force policy
by insisting that officers exercise restraint when dealing with
objectively threatening and dangerous individuals comes with enormous
Jun 7, 2018
By Patrick J. Solar, PhD
Police use of force
is a serious issue in any democratic society. Citizens expect police to
keep the peace, but when citizens see the violence this sometimes
requires, they often feel compelled to voice their shock and outrage.
a police officer is compelled by circumstance to use deadly force it is
a tragedy both for the target of the force and for the police officer.
However, there is a premise underlying the current push to “raise police
use of force to a higher standard” as outlined in the 2015 PERF report that is misguided.
The public seems to believe there is an epidemic of police use of
force in this country, but that belief lacks any objective support.
Passion rather than rationale is driving current discussions with little
informed thought about the likely consequences of further limiting the power of the police.
The risks of policy modification
Modifying police use of force policy
by insisting that officers exercise restraint in dealing with
objectively threatening and dangerous individuals comes with enormous
risk. This is not just risk to the officers themselves, but to the
community, to the police agency and to the municipality.
comes in the form of injury and death to the police officer(s)
involved, and in the form of civil liability lawsuits directed at the
community as a whole, something that police chiefs, city managers and
public officials try to minimize whenever possible.
As for the latest PERF publication, "Use of Force: Taking Police
to a Higher Standard," the document is a continuation of the politically
motivated, irrational and unrealistic approach to use of force that was
presented at the conference in May 2015. Perhaps this lack of
understanding is based on isolation in academia, or perhaps it has to do
with a pure political agenda. It certainly is not premised on any
concern for the safety of law enforcement personnel or even for the law
abiding citizens that are in need of the assistance of law enforcement
protection. Law enforcement officers must be confident in their actions
as they respond to situations which require split-second decisions in
life threatening circumstances. Hesitation and doubt, coupled with fear
of potential consequences, are seriously problematic in such
circumstances. The decision-making process and the choices officers face
are tough enough without adding the ridiculous and impossible criteria
proposed by PERF.
Raising police use of force to a higher standard is a
noble goal. Progressive and practical police chiefs have recognized this
for decades and have already incorporated the following elements of
this goal into their operating procedures:
A duty to intervene if officers witness colleagues using excessive or unnecessary force;
Requiring officers to render first aid to subjects who have been injured as a result of police actions;
Prohibiting use of deadly force against persons who pose a danger only to themselves; and
Specific limits on shooting at vehicles.
The push to do more under the premise that there is an epidemic
of police use of deadly force means the need to incur additional costs
to off-set the increased risk this impetus potentially creates. The very
real and practical considerations for a municipality include the
How much more money needs to be spent on police training
to try to avoid a deadly force encounter? This question assumes that
any given situation stands a chance of being avoided in the first place,
but most are unavoidable. 
How much more is the municipality willing to spend to defend the
community against the multitude of complaints and lawsuits that will
result from alleged departures from these “higher standards?” 
How much more will a municipality be willing to spend to support
the needs of officers involved in these tragic situations that would not
have occurred absent the “higher standard?” 
How much more will the municipality be willing to spend in salary
and benefits to attract brave officers willing to work under such
All of this has to be paid for with real money. Who will
proclaim their taxes need to be raised to support these initiatives?
What programs should be cut at the municipal level in order to shift
money to these goals?
Police use of force is decreasing
recent Pew survey found that 76% of officers surveyed indicated that
they are more reluctant to use force when the use of force is
How many people in the U.S. have any contact with
the police at all? In 1999 approximately 20.9%, that is roughly 66
million individuals. In 2008, that percentage dropped to 16.9 % or 40
Between the years 2005 and 2008 the percent of residents who actually had any contact with the police in enforcement situations and
experienced the use or threat of force by police dropped from 2.3% to
1.9 %.  The U.S. Department of Justice reported that an estimated
776,000 persons experienced force or the threat of force by police at
least once in 2008. This total represented an estimated 1.9% of the
approximately 40.0 million people experiencing face-to-face police
contact during 2008. 
For those who were confronted by the
police for alleged unlawful conduct, the number reporting any use of
force dropped significantly.  Despite this, many individuals and
groups are contemplating a major change in public policy that will
dramatically increase costs to the public and it will only impact the
2.8 % of the U.S. population who choose to use force against the police.
What we know about police use of force
Here are some additional facts on police use of force:
Known with substantial confidence is that police use force
infrequently. The data indicate that a small percentage of police-public
encounters involve force.
Researchers and practitioners both tend to presuppose that the
incidence of excessive force by police is very low. If use of force is
uncommon, and civilian complaints are infrequent, and civilian injuries
are few, then excessive force by police must be rare.
Use of force is more likely to occur when police are dealing with
persons under the influence of alcohol or drugs or with mentally ill
A small proportion of officers are disproportionately involved in use-of-force incidents. 
Where should we focus our attention given the premise that
police use of force is a serious public policy concern and that officers
sometimes use excessive force?
Based on the fact that use-of-force incidents are most common in the context of inebriated and mentally ill individuals, we should:
Identify behavioral characteristics common to those officers who
use force disproportionately and manage that risk with early warning
systems, remedial training, re-assignment and discipline.
Increasing risk without benefit is not reasonable or responsible
public policy. Knowing that the police represent the first line of
defense against those who seek to do us harm, we cannot judge their
decisions with 20-20 hindsight. Doing so represents a profound injustice
for the police themselves, something that the court clearly recognized
in Graham v. Connor.
assertion that there is a “police problem” needs to be localized, not
generalized, with a keen eye toward the character of the community
itself. The police react to situations, they do not cause them nor do
they have the ability to manipulate the context of most police use-of
Lawsuits cost money! Even when the municipality and police department
is completely vindicated, the municipal government incurs enormous costs
to defend the community.
3. Costs here include ongoing mental
health and counseling services related to PTSD, substance abuse,
worker’s compensation, medical leave, sick leave, and death benefits and
ongoing pension costs for officers killed in the line of duty and their
4. Police officers have choices on where to work. They
can shop around for the best departments more so than ever. Attracting
competent officers into agencies where the already difficult work is
made more so by these ambiguous UOF standards will mean the need to
offer much more than the neighboring community in salary and benefits.
About the Author Patrick J. Solar, PhD, has been a police officer for nearly 30 years
serving as a street officer, detective, sergeant, lieutenant and small
town chief. His has a bachelor's degree in political science, a master's
degree in public administration and a doctorate in political
philosophy. He is also a graduate of the 188th session of the FBI National Academy.
is currently engaged at the University of Wisconsin–Platteville where
he teaches courses on policing and law enforcement at the undergraduate
and graduate level. He is currently working on the development of a new
process for police performance assessment reflecting the values of 21st
century policing, and is the primary author of a new book titled
“Police Community Relations: A conflict Management Approach,” coming
soon from West Academic Publishing. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
They write like this has never been addressed before..More officers will die as a result of tinkering and experimenting
Posted by Matt at 7/9/2018 12:28:34 PM
It's the belligerent non complying citizens and media that are the problem. What's next? Having the officer ask "pretty please put your hands behind your back and lay face down"? I am 56 and have never had issues with LEO's because I show some respect. You get what you give people, remember that