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Back to Archives | Back to December 2007 Contents 

President's Message

Examining the Use of Force

By Ronald C. Ruecker, Director of Public Safety, City of Sherwood, Oregon

Ron Ruecker
Ronald C. Ruecker,
Director of Public Safety,
City of Sherwood, Oregon

s police leaders, we are faced with a constant array of challenges that require our time and attention. Daily, we are confronted with competing demands and everchanging community expectations that require our attention and response. Successfully overcoming these challenges is a daunting task that requires us to do all we can to ensure that our officers and departments are properly trained, equipped, and prepared to protect the communities we serve.

Of all these tasks, there is little doubt that managing and dealing with the questions and problems surrounding the use of force by our officers is one of the most difficult issues that confronts law enforcement executives.

It is an unfortunate reality that law enforcement officers around the world are often required to resort to some form of force in order to enforce the law, protect the public, and guard their own safety as well as that of innocent bystanders. This is particularly true in the United States, where many areas are experiencing increases in violent crime and firearms are widely available for both legal and illegal purposes.

To gain an understanding of the dangerous environment in which our officers operate, one need look no further than the annual report of police officers killed and assaulted compiled by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). In the year 2006, 58,634 officers reported being assaulted in the performance of their official duties. Of these, 44 law enforcement officers were feloniously killed, and an additional 15,704 were wounded or injured. Tragically, these numbers are certain to rise in 2007.

Despite these daunting statistics, the public rightfully expects law enforcement officers to make a good decision each and every time they use force. This is a very difficult standard to meet, because decisions on use of force are made under exceedingly varied and often dangerous scenarios that require split-second decision making. Because of these facts, state and federal courts have recognized that police officers must be provided with the necessary knowledge and training to make such decisions. As a result, officers are trained to a standard of justification rather than a standard of necessity, because it would be impossible to write an all-inclusive statuteaddressing every possible circumstance requiring the use of force.

Our communities cry out, however, when a statutorily justified use of force is juxtaposed against the community’s expectation of necessity. They reasonably ask, was there another way that officers could have defused the situation? Was the use of force consistent with the level of threat confronting the officers?

In response to these questions, the law enforcement community has striven to minimize the use of deadly force by police officers over the years. As a profession, we have provided and trained our officers in the proper use of an ever-increasing array of lesslethal tools to resolve confrontations without resorting to deadly force. Whether these tools take the form of a firm grip; escort or pain or pressure compliance holds; or other, more aggressive measures such as electromuscular disruption technology, pepper spray, or other nondeadly force equipment or tactics are all significant components of the use-of-force continuum. There is no doubt that these critically important tools and techniques have, over the years, reduced the law enforcement community’s need to resort to deadly force.

In fact, a 2001 study on use of force conducted by the IACP found that force of any kind was used only at a rate of 3.61 incidents per 10,000 calls for service. Significantly, firearms were the method of force least used.

However, as impressive as these numbers are, I am convinced that we can do better.

It is my belief that as we have increased the tools available to our officers, we have, in some cases, overlooked an equally important issue: training our officers on when not to use the tools we have provided them. In some cases, the ability of law enforcement officers to use their communication skills to end confrontations in nonviolent fashion appears to have decreased as we have increased the number of less-lethal options available to them. I believe that in many ways, communication has become a lost art, and some officers have begun to rely more on technology than on talking. Simply put, this should never be the case, and it is our responsibility as police leaders to ensure that our officers have the communication skills necessary to resolve conflicts, where possible, before force is necessary.

We serve as guardians of both the public and the public trust. The citizens we serve have the right to expect that the use of force is the option of last resort for law enforcement officers. For these reasons, one of the top priorities during my term as president will be to conduct a comprehensive examination of the use of force. Through this process we will ensure that we, as the leaders of our profession, are doing all that can be done to minimize the use of force while still protecting our communities and our officers from harm. ■



From The Police Chief, vol. 74, no. 12, December 2007. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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