First off, I know this is a sensitive and contentious subject. We all come in with our preconceived ideas of police brutality and abuse of power. Across the country, angry and/or concerned citizens are pushing for better training on use of force. But we can’t make effective change (if any) if we don’t know how they are being trained in the first place. Our instructor noted in defense of police departments, that the media always wants to be the first to report, but are not necessarily accurate.
Notably, the deputy commissioner at the time of this class, Darryl De Sousa, had taken part in a fellowship program through the IACP (International Association of Chiefs of Police) to learn about best practices that officers use throughout the world. De Sousa has since been promoted to Commissioner, replacing Kevin Davis.
Lieutenant Sean Brown walked us through a chart of sorts, describing a suspect’s behavior on a spectrum ranging from “Compliant” to “Aggravated Aggression” and the corresponding level of force applied to each. There are three levels of force: 1-low, 2-Intermediate, 3-High. Throughout every interaction, officers are expected to keep a “professional presence,” use verbal commands, and follow “arrest and control techniques.”
The DOJ defines these behavior levels as such:
Compliant – A person contacted by an officer who acknowledges direction or lawful orders given and offers no passive/active, aggressive, or aggravated aggressive resistance.
Passive Resistance – The subject is not complying with an officer’s commands and is uncooperative, but is taking only minimal physical action to prevent an officer from placing the subject in custody and taking control. Examples include: standing stationary and not moving upon lawful direction, falling limply and refusing to use their own power to move (becoming “dead weight”), holding onto a fixed object, or locking arms to another during a protest or demonstration.
Active Resistance – The subject’s verbal or physical actions are intended to prevent an officer from placing the subject in custody and taking control, but are not directed at harming the officer. Examples include: walking or running away, breaking the officer’s grip.
Aggressive Resistance – The subject displays the intent to harm the officer, themselves or another person and prevent an officer from placing the subject in custody and taking control. The aggression may manifest itself through a subject taking a fighting stance, punching, kicking, striking, attacks with weapons or other actions which present an imminent threat of physical harm to the officer or another.
Aggravated Aggressive Resistance – The subject’s actions are likely to result in death or serious bodily harm to the officer, themselves or another. These actions may include a firearm, use of blunt or bladed weapon, and extreme physical force
Of course, if a sbjectt is compliant, their training indicates no use of force necessary. Passive resistance warrants a level 1 use of force including handcuffs and forcing the suspect down to the ground. Any time an officers uses force, it is documented within internal affairs. When this happens, a supervisor is notified and conducts an independent investigation. Each investigation will look at what de-escalation techniques the officer may have used, as well as verbal commands. Officers are obligated to use verbal warnings when approaching a suspect unless it would be considered detrimental to the officer’s safety.
Active resistance and beyond could warrant the use of OC (oleoresin capsicum) spray (which is the same as pepper spray or Mace). Tasers would be used in cases involving Active or Aggravated Aggression. Officers may also use FN303 non-lethal riot guns and bean bag guns.
Level 2 use of force would include such actions as striking the suspect with a baton, usually to the legs. Striking a suspect in the head with the baton is prohibited.
As for level 3, when use of a firearm is indicated, officers are trained to aim for center mass because it is a larger target, there is less risk of missing, and less risk of hitting a bystander. According to our instructor, officers never shoot to kill. Officers will only attempt “head shots” if the suspect is wearing body armor, SWAT, or hostages are involved. In training, officers must shoot with a minimum of 70% accuracy. Every level 3 intervention is investigated by SIRT (Serious Incident Response Team), or when a commander requests it, if below level 3. The officer in question is placed on administrative status during the investigation.
Once a cadet passes the first stage of training and qualifies to be an officer, he/she will move onto the second stage-combat training. Prior to this year, officers received a minimum of 18 hours and a maximum of 40 hours of training. Now, they receive 80 hours of in-service training. It usually takes about 3-5 years before an officer feels comfortable in his/her position.
Most agencies around the country use the X26P taser from Axon. They carry 50,000 volts, with an ampage the same as a Christmas tree light, about .ooo4 amps, which result in neuromuscular incapacitation. They contain 2 cartridges with probes like fish-hooks that reach to 25 feet. Tasers run for 5 seconds and officers are trained to aim for the waist-band or back. Probes are not as effective through thick coats and can only penetrate about one inch of clothing. They are only allowed to tase a suspect three times. Officers are encouraged to feel it in training. As policies have changed, taser use as declined, with 22 uses within the BPD for the year (as of October 2017). There are currently 1200 tasers in circulation, most used by officers on patrol.
Each cartridge has a serial number. When a taser is deployed, it also shoots out pieces of paper, or tags, on the ground with the taser’s serial number on it. Policeone.com provides further information and notably states that:
“For accountability, the X26 … internal computer records the time of occurrence and the duration of each “activation” and “cycle,” and this and other data are available via the “download printout.”
As mentioned before, they are only to be used when an officer faces active resistance or active aggression. Tasers cannot be used on the elderly, children, individuals from an elevated position, individuals operating a vehicle, or pregnant women.
There is some controversy, over the use of tasers in cases of excited delirium – a condition where a person has used illegal narcotics and their body is over-heating, in the process of dying. They have been implicated in several deaths. Suspects experiencing excited delirium often exhibit super-human strength and may not respond to the taser’s effects. The BPD’s protocol when tasing someone experiencing excited delirium also involves calling available medical units.
As part of our class on use of force, we got to do two separate types of simulations to demonstrate what it may be like as an officer when faced with a situation involving lethal force. We were given guns equipped with lasers and stood in front of a large screen from the perspective of an officer responding to a scene with a possible shooter. It was a fun and informative exercise on how you may act in a situation, and the complications that make decision-making difficult, albeit without formal training like actual officers have. After that simulation, it was determined that I would need a lawyer if I were really an officer!
Another simulation we did was with the police trainers where we got to wear the duty belt, and respond to a scene with our partner in a staged room in the training center. We were encouraged to use verbal commands and de-escalation techniques. I found myself laughably drawing my gun and my taser at the same time. I was also not very good at talking the individual down, even given my psychology background (granted, I was not feeling well that day). It gave a good idea of how difficult it may be for officers (though again, lacking the training they have).