Chief Concerns

Home » Perspective » Are “De-escalation” Policies Escalating Line of Duty Deaths?

Are “De-escalation” Policies Escalating Line of Duty Deaths?

The authority of the police to use “reasonable and necessary” force to effect arrest has been not only one of the most debated powers granted to police, but most likely one of the most misunderstood as well. The term “reasonable and necessary” force is based on the ambiguous “reasonable person” standard. At best, it leaves the police in a perilous conundrum of trying to find that “reasonable person”, and in the blink of an eye, determine how that person would apply the use of force in separate, widely varying and quickly evolving incidents. The lack of a clear, definitive definition has left the police scrambling for ways to defend themselves and protect the public without the nagging fear that their actions will result in claims of excessive force and career ending litigation.

Enter the regeneration of “de-escalation.” The notion of “de-escalation” is not a new phenomenon and has been, in one way or another, part of every use of force continuum for decades.   Finding ways to slow down the scenario, provide officers with less-than-lethal alternatives and reduce the need for the use of deadly force have been commonplace in most use of force policies. Use of force begins with the mere presence of an officer and can be escalated through verbal or visual commands, soft empty-hand control techniques, hard empty-hand control techniques, intermediate weapons (pepper spray, electro-muscular disruption devices), impact weapons, and concluding with deadly force, if necessary. However, even with this wide continuum of force options, the standard of the “reasonable person” remains on a wildly swinging pendulum that is subjectively and inconsistently applied.

The outcry for a nationwide de-escalation policy has brought police use of force under further scrutiny, the inference being, government on a national level replacing local use of force governance historically implemented by local law enforcement. This poses a question of effectiveness, efficiency and accountability. Expecting an already overburdened, understaffed and inefficient federal government to judiciously administer, scrutinize and enforce local law enforcement use of force policies and incidents is unreasonable, especially to a reasonable person.

Studies have shown that agencies without de-escalation policies experience a much lower officer mortality rate than those agencies with de-escalation polices in effect. De-escalation can work, just not in every incident. Individuals experiencing mental illness, those under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol or those with predisposed tendencies for violence usually are not the most rational people to deal with. In those incidents, de-escalation policies may be ineffective based on the actor’s irrationality and inability to cooperate. In the majority of use of force incidents, if the actor would just do as the officer requests, excessive force would never even be a consideration. Still, use of force protocols cannot be abandoned. Officers are placed in situations in which they cannot retreat, and a use of force incident can arise, causing the officer to make a split-second decision based on his or her training, experience, the law and department policy. The threat of disciplinary action, negative media attention, frivolous litigation and loss of livelihood further muddle the decision-making process, confusing officers and causing them to pause in moments where life or death decisions need to be made.

There is no panacea for this problem. We must continue to work as a society to help the police help us. This will require giving the police less ambiguous laws and unrealistic policies that will allow them to make clear-cut decisions without the fear of being held to a standard that is ever-changing.

 

References:

Alpert, G. and Smith, W. (1994). “How Reasonable Is The Reasonable Man.” The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology: Vol. 85/2, 481–501.

 

Intellectual Property Disclaimer

  • Users are permitted to read the website and the Information and make copies for their own personal use, for example by printing or storing it. All other use of the website or the information, for example the storage or reproduction of (a part of) the website of Chief Concerns in any external internet site or the creation of links, hypertext links or deeplinks between the website of Chief Concerns and any other internet site, is prohibited without the express written consent of Chief Jody O’Guinn, Carbondale, IL.
Advertisements

2 Comments

  1. Dan Romanic says:

    I’ve never been a police officer for starters. But I can clearly imagine this is virtually an impossible task. Drugs, alcohol, mental illness and the introduction of weapons and past learned behaviors. Police Officers obviously must have a wide latitude to make decisions that most likely never seem right to the person who believes they have been wronged. Can anyone who has done the job explain to me if there is anything I do in civilian life that simulates the decision making process you must follow? Do the speed and seriousness correspond to anything a normal person experiences?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dan, it is a tough comparison to make. Most civilians will never even come close to having to make such life altering decisions, especially with the frequency and exigency that is required of police officers. Even those citizens who may face criminal activity, such as a robbery or an assault, will do so once or twice in their lifetime if at all. Let’s not forget that the life or death decisions officers make, not only involve the life of the offender, but the life of the officer and his or her colleagues as well. This is an enormous responsibility for officers to process mentally, then respond to immediately, based on what is at times very ambiguous circumstances. It is difficult to frame a analogous civilian scenario that would even come close.

      Most civilians may have the misfortune to have to make a life or death decision about themselves, a loved one, or even a stranger, but not normally all at the same time and with the urgency and lack of information necessary to make an informed decision. The life or death decision that an officer must make in a split second, will be analyzed, second guessed and criticized by those who have the luxury of months of information gathering while sitting invulnerable in the comfort of their homes.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: