My friend, @MentalHealthCop, recently shared a newspaper controversy regarding the hand-cuffing of an elderly dementia patient and blogged on this ‘Sectioning the Elderly‘. A couple of years ago, colleagues of mine suffered serious injuries when a 98 year old man attacked them with a knife after they went to his assistance. How do police officers make decisions regarding the Use of Force? The police use a model called the Force Continuum, which is a linear progression that charts the action of the assailant with the force options available.
The officer needs to make decisions based on the circumstances, including the comparative age, size, sex, skill level and number of offenders/officers. So someone like me, a reasonable well built, 6 foot tall confident officer would place themselves on a different place on the continuum to a smaller less confident individual. The officers confidence is the most important factor, I know 5’ tall officers who would face lions and 6’7 officers scared of their shadow.
There are also special circumstances which must be taken into account, for instance, the proximity of a weapon, the subjects mental health, the subjects apparent abuse of drugs/alcohol, special knowledge of the subject and injury/exhaustion of either the officer or subject.
The model starts at dialogue and progresses through escort, handcuffs, open hand techniques, incapacitant sprays, batons, less-lethal options and finally lethal force. Dialogue should encompass all aspects of the model because each use of force should be accompanied by tactical communication if possible. Other options can also fit at various points on the model, handcuffs, for example, can be used as an escort tool or as a means of ensuring pain compliance to gain control.
It is perhaps unfortunate that we use a linear progression, because it is necessary to be able to de-escalate as well as escalate the levels of force used. Antipodean colleagues use a circular model, the Tactical Options Model, which places safety at the centre of the model, surrounds it with communications and then places options round this, encouraging the officer to work through the options.
The recent HMIC Report ‘Rules of Engagement‘ suggests that there are three core questions which police officers should ask to justify there use of force,
1. Would the use of force have a lawful objective (e.g. the prevention of injury to others or damage to property, or the effecting of a lawful arrest) and, if so, how immediate and grave is the threat posed?
2. Are there any means, short of the use of force, capable of attaining the lawful objective identified?
3. Having regard to the nature and gravity of the threat, and the potential for adverse consequences to arise from the use of force (including the risk of escalation and the exposure of others to harm), what is the minimum level of force required to attain the objective identified, and would the use of that level of force be proportionate or excessive?
As always, human rights are paramount in use of force. Officers use of force must be
Decision making surrounding the use of force is difficult, with officers having to make snap decisions under extreme pressure, often without the full knowledge of circumstances. I will blog about police decision making in my next blog.