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Use-of-Force Tactics and Non-Lethal Weaponry

NCJ Number
Date Published
12 pages
This document presents some of the major use-of-force issues and controversies facing law enforcement personnel.
Law enforcement officers are permitted to use the degree of force that is reasonably necessary to accomplish their lawful objectives and to overcome any unlawful resistance. The usual first step is verbal persuasion; the second is manual escort. If these steps are unsuccessful or inappropriate the next step is pain compliance, which includes the wrist lock, arm bar, or other "come-along" techniques. It is only when control methods are ineffective or inappropriate that the force applied escalates to the use of impact weapons. The principal impact weapon is the baton, which is the intermediate step between hand-applied force and the ultimate force of firearms. Circumstances that may warrant an accelerated reaction using a higher degree of force when initiating a contact with a violent or dangerous person include combative behavior or the use of alcohol, drugs, or controlled substances such as PCP. When a law enforcement officer is placed in a situation where he must resort to the use of a weapon in defense of himself, fellow officers, or a citizen, an expert may testify during litigation that the officer failed to de-escalate or avoid the confrontation. This expert can claim that improved training in the use of psychological persuasion could have prevented the injury or death, or the officer should have kept distant until reinforcements arrived on the scene. Administrative negligence is when superior officers are held personally liable for a tragic event, even though they did not authorize the officer's action or conduct. Impact weapons, such as flashlights, saps and blackjacks, nightsticks, PR-24 batons, mace, and stun guns, have strengths and weaknesses in their use. Flashlights are usually readily available but have sharp edges that will cut a person. The controversial blackjack is easily carried but tends to be used with facial/head blows. The baton has great flexibility but is cumbersome and often left in the car. A law enforcement agency should carefully choose the various devices and techniques it authorizes for the protection of its officers and the public. 28 footnotes