Effect of Police Officer Confidence on Officer Injuries and Excessive Force
Steven D. Ashley, M.S., M.L.S., MFCI, ARM
Laura Golles, M.L.S.
June 12, 2000
fundamental mission of government is the protection of its citizens. As the most visible arm of government, law enforcement
officers are on the front line in the fight to protect citizens from harm,
and to preserve public order. To
attain this goal, society grants police officers authority unique in civil
government, that of controlling the behavior of their fellow citizens. In the most direct way, and on a daily basis, police officers
are engaged in the control and management of the behavior of other members
Law enforcement has historically had limited options for the use of deadly
and non-lethal force. As
recently as twenty-five years ago, an officer’s primary tools were small
caliber handguns, shotguns and some limited chemical sprays.
Nightsticks and blackjacks had been in existence for many years and
were the only impact weapons available for routine use.
Many officers utilized improvised weapons, such as flashlights and
homemade striking devices. The
training offered to officers in the use of weapons was very limited,
frequently involving only basic firearms instruction.
recently, advancements in technology, more frequent litigation, and
heightened public expectations generated by media coverage, have underscored
the need for a change in how the law enforcement profession fulfilled its
mission of managing behavior to assure safety for society’s members.
As criminals on the street gained greater access to a wider range of
weapons, law officers experienced a compounded need for more diverse options
in both the deadly and non-lethal force arenas.
Weapons such as stun guns, aerosol chemical sprays, and martial arts
equipment have become available without any type of licensing process in
many states. Additionally,
larger caliber and higher capacity firearms, coupled with advances in weapon
concealment options, have presented an increased threat to officer safety. In a relatively short period of time, these weapon
developments led to law enforcement falling behind in the level of
technological sophistication required to meet the increasing threat levels
faced by officers on the street.
more detailed, media coverage increased the public’s expectation that law
enforcement would take advantage of advances in technology, while at the
same time more closely managing individual officers’ use of force.
This increased expectation gave rise to expanded opportunities for
litigation at both the state and federal levels, which in turn further fed
the media engine. Thus, a cycle
of increased expectations and heightened criticism of law enforcement gave
rise to increased risk management efforts by agencies at every level of the
result of these societal forces has been an increase in police use of
non-lethal weapons and techniques, such as aerosol sprays, impact weapons,
and simplified defensive tactics systems.
Additionally, a wider selection of restraint methods and devices has
the last 10 to 15 years, law enforcement has also diversified its selection
of firearms, replacing outmoded revolvers with higher capacity
semi-automatic pistols, and in many cases, traditional pump-action shotguns
with semi-automatic shotguns and rifles.
Advances in ammunition and firearms design have given rise to the
wide spread adoption of more powerful calibers for police armament, such as
the .40 caliber pistol round.
order to assure the most effective and efficient use of this enhanced
technology, significant advances have been made in law enforcement training
methodology. Systems for use of
various tools and techniques have been developed.
manufacturers and vendors of the new technology initially
developed these systems, the law enforcement profession has begun to develop
non-brand specific training in many regards.
This is an important development, as it allows for the integration of
various force and control tools and techniques into more contextually
accurate training methodologies.
that new technologies are properly utilized, and to assist in the proper
implementation of training programs, law enforcement has developed enhanced
procedural guidelines over the past two decades.
Where once a Police Chief or Sheriff might simply admonish his people
to “be careful” when using force against a citizen, more recent risk
management efforts have resulted in detailed policies and procedures aimed
at removing as much ambiguity from an officer’s decision to use force as
atmosphere created by these recent technological advances, increases in
litigation, enhanced training programs and more prolific procedural
guidelines is one of increasing difficulty for the law enforcement
profession. While technology
and training have increased the potential for officer safety and provided
better methods for management of use of force against citizens, in order to
fully avail themselves of these advancements, law enforcement executives
must devote more and more of their limited resources to equipment purchases
and costly training programs. To monitor the results of these initiatives, Chiefs and
Sheriffs must also provide for more detailed direction and control of
officers, through assignment of more officers to supervisory roles, and
through the development of more extensive procedural guidelines.
This, of course, means that supervisors must also be trained, and
that all personnel must be trained in the application of new policies and
departments have found it difficult to keep up.
In some cases, departments that purchased new firearms or impact
weapons less than ten years ago are under increasing pressure from officers
and citizens alike to reevaluate their current equipment, and to consider
purchasing even newer technology. In
other cases, departments have a great deal of difficulty in offering
adequate training to officers within the constraints of current budgets.
Often this is exacerbated by political considerations regarding
government expenditures and fiscal policy.
It is not uncommon for departments to take a “calculated risk”
regarding types and levels of training, and then to pay off when events
occur that give rise to large court judgments.
Occasionally this practice results in recriminations from politicians
or the community that law enforcement executives should have been better
prepared to forestall such negative outcomes.
Perhaps the greatest challenge for today’s officer is the question of
when to use force, and how much force to use.
By the vary nature of their jobs, officers are called upon throughout
their careers to play mediator in many volatile situations, to take action
when laws are violated, and to apprehend traffic violators.
At any given time, one of these scenarios can require the use of some
type of force or control by an officer.
Departmental policy, authorized equipment, formal training, and an
officer’s faith in his or her abilities dictate the amount and type of
force officers might use. Additionally,
available technology may also impact the decision to use force.
If an officer is unprepared to meet the various threats he or she
faces, injury to the officer or citizens may result. Lower confidence on the
part of officers might lead to increased probability of injuries and
complaints of excessive force.
Less than Lethal Practices
Because police officers are charged with enforcing the law and
maintaining public order, they are frequently placed in situations where
they must attempt to manage or control an otherwise free citizen.
Whether an encounter leads to an actual arrest or merely a temporary
detention for questioning, these intrusions are often unwelcome. It
is not uncommon for such police intervention to be resisted by the citizen
or citizens involved. When this
happens, officers frequently need to use forcible means to control and
perhaps arrest the persons in question.
Traditionally, officers have had limited technology at their
disposal. Beyond empty-hand
defensive tactics or boxing, officers could utilize striking instruments
(such as nightsticks, billy clubs or blackjacks) or they could use a
Clearly, striking someone with a club or stick represents a high level of
force, with significant potential for injury.
Of course, shooting them represents an even higher level of force.
While such high levels of force are sometimes justified by a
citizen’s aggressive, resistive behavior, the opposite is far more common
those situations where high levels of force cannot be justified, officers
were, and are, often at a disadvantage, facing a significant possibility of
being injured themselves. The
need to control certain violent individuals, while at the same time being
discouraged from using potentially injurious deadly weapons (often the only
weapons they possess), has resulted in many officer injuries while making
arrests for relatively minor violations of the law.
As society’s expectations matured regarding reasonable levels of force,
police needed a control method that possessed less potential for injury than
a “club” or a gun. For
roughly the last two decades, that method has increasingly been hand held
chemical spray weapons (Hunter, 1994).
held chemical spray weapons (typically referred to as aerosol weapons,
aerosol subject restraints, or ASRs) have been used by police in the United
States since the late 1960’s (Bunker, 1996). Initially, more traditional
chemical mixtures, usually generically referred to as tear gas,
were marketed in small aerosol cans for use by individual officers.
hand-held units were often ineffective, as the active ingredients–or
agents–were really intended to be dispersed over a large area in an
airborne cloud rather than sprayed onto an individual in a direct pattern. Sold under the brand name MaceÔ, these products rapidly gained a reputation
amongst police officers for failing to control aggressive, resistive
individuals. Instead, officers
that used MaceÔ
were often so adversely affected by the spray that they would refuse to use
it thereafter. Use of handheld sprays generally fell out of favor.
During the late 1970s, a hand-held spray weapon containing oleoresin
capsicum (OC), sometimes referred to as “pepper spray”, was developed
for civilian policing, making significant inroads into the police arsenal
during the 1980s. This product
contains the active ingredient capsaicin, extracted from pepper plants.
Because OC is chemically classified as an inflammatory agent, thereby
differing from the earlier tear gas products that are chemical irritants (Onnen,
1993), it produces a more severe effect in the targeted individual.
The primary effects of exposure to OC include sharp burning sensations in
the eyes and on the skin, as well as coughing and profuse mucous production.
Generally, reflexive closing of the eyes, choking and shallow
breathing lead to reduced mobility following exposure (National Institute of
the late 1980’s, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) conducted tests
on OC based products, in order to determine their effectiveness, and the
degree to which they could be deemed safe to use.
The 1989 FBI test report was one of the first pieces of research that
could truly be judged to be independent of manufacturers’ potential
influence. Until that time, and other than research done on earlier tear
gas products in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, the only data
available as to efficacy and suitability for use on humans came directly or
indirectly from the manufacturers themselves.
Coupled with this lack of independent research, most training
available in the use of aerosol weapons also originated with the
the FBI tests, which found OC based products safe to use, and generally
many law enforcement agencies began to adopt the technology for routine
patrol use. There was
commensurate development of non-brand specific training programs, although
much of the available training still emanated from the manufacturers and
vendors of aerosol weapons.
American law enforcement generally employs two types of aerosol weapons.
Simple OC products, in varying strengths and concentrations of up to
ten percent, make up the bulk of the aerosol market.
Additionally, combination products, or blends, are also used.
Typically, OC and more traditional CS tear gas
are “blended” to produce a pepper-fortified tear gas.
These blend products have seen particularly widespread use and
acceptance by law enforcement agencies in the State of Michigan.
Justifying the Use of Aerosol Weapons
While most officers have a basic understanding of how to use their aerosols,
the question of when to use them is less well understood. In fact, there are differing opinions among police
administrators and theoreticians as to when aerosol use is operationally
appropriate. Concerns regarding
this question are embodied in several basic philosophies for the timing of
first of these philosophies is to use aerosols when faced with minimal
levels of resistance, such as verbal non-compliance or aggressive posturing.
Justification for use at such a low level hinges upon the potential
for officer injury–and the commensurate increased likelihood of injury to
the involved citizen–if an officer moves in to control the resistance
physically, and begins fighting with the individual.
Essentially, it’s thought to be better to spray early rather than
face this increased risk of injury to both parties.
operational philosophy is to not spray unless faced with a fairly high level
of resistance, such as would otherwise justify the use of a striking weapon.
The reasoning for delaying the use of sprays until greater
justification is present stems from concern that use of
the aerosol could
result in a severe physical reaction that might, in fact, be life
threatening. This philosophy
tends to place heightened emphasis on avoidance of legal liability in such
third, and perhaps the most defensible philosophy, is to use aerosols –
and for that matter any weapon – when such use can meet the test of
“objective reasonableness”. This
standard is required by the Fourth Amendment to the United States
Constitution, and is cited by the Supreme Court of the United States in Tennessee
v. Garner (1985).
One way of stating this is that use of any weapon is justified
when an officer reasonably believes that such force is necessary to stop an
individual’s aggressive or resistant behavior, and that lesser levels of
control would be unsafe or ineffective.
Use of Force Developments
with the movement toward aerosol weapons, law enforcement began to adopt
other less-than-lethal technologies. Expandable
police batons, which could be worn on the officer’s belt (as an
alternative to the traditional nightstick, which was often left behind in
his or her car when needed), became the “impact weapon” of choice.
Different versions of the standard police flashlight, engineered so
as to substitute as an impact weapon when necessary, were also available,
although concerns were–and continue to be–raised as to the increased
legal liability encountered in such use. Alternative restraint methods were developed, supplementing
and sometimes supplanting standard issue, chain-link handcuffs (Ashley,
these new developments required specialized training, as well as additional
procedural guidelines in order to reduce the risks inherent in technological
change. Such procedures and
training were not always implemented, with the results that new control
methods and tools often led to increased liability costs, and a parallel
increase in the number of officer injuries, and citizen complaints of
municipal managers and insurers increasingly took notice of this undesirable
and contradictory trend, law enforcement executives sought to reduce risk
through adoption of procedures and training programs.
Today, many of the negative results arising from these initial
problems have been overcome, although some departments still lag behind the
rest of the law enforcement profession in their risk reduction efforts.
Officers using weapons or control techniques of any type must be prepared to
articulate their need for the use of such force.
The use of force to maintain order, to protect citizens and to
enforce the law must be balanced against the cost to society in reduced
freedom of movement and in increased intrusion into the lives of society’s
members. The outcome of this
balancing test will determine the legal acceptability of each individual use
was a time when mainstream America gave little thought to the routine use of
force by police officers. Unless
a citizen had been arrested, or lived in a high crime area, such things were
generally out of sight, and out of mind.
When it did come to the attention of the public, use of force was
often deemed to be necessary for the greater good.
Only in the case of inappropriate use of deadly force did one see
very noticeable public reaction, and generally even those cases did not
result in an overall damning of the law enforcement profession.
This is no longer the case.
proliferation of information, coupled with society’s ability to capture
and rapidly distribute images and ideas, has dramatically changed the law
enforcement landscape in America. There
is an increased belief in the pervasiveness of brutality and excessive force
on the part of law enforcement officers by the American public.
Widespread and repeated broadcast of sensational footage of excessive
force incidents, coupled with endless analysis and discussion of events by
commentators, has resulted in a virtual expectation that the police will use
more force than is necessary.
this trend, in many jurisdictions where non-lethal weapons, such as
aerosols, are properly used and managed, complaints against officers for
excessive force have declined by as much as 50 to 60 percent.
It is generally believed that this is due to the short-term nature of
the effects of aerosol exposure, and to a reduction in the use of more
traditional striking instruments.
Physically fighting with a suspect, and perhaps using a striking implement
such as a nightstick or baton, carries with it a significant potential for
harm. Injuries ranging from
scrapes and sprains to deep bruises and broken bones are often the result. These injuries leave marks on the human body that often
remain for days, if not weeks or months.
Occasionally medical treatment may be required, sometimes resulting
in time off from work for the involved citizen.
These situations frequently give rise to complaints that the force
used was excessive, and such complaints are often accompanied by threats of
viewed in this context, the relatively short-lived effects of an aerosol
exposure, albeit extremely painful and debilitating, seem preferable.
Usually, the most extreme effects wear off in approximately 20 to 30
minutes, and the exposed person can then be said to have “functionally
recovered” (Archambault & Rookwood, 1994).
Residual effects, such as reddening of the skin, bloodshot eyes,
heightened respiratory sensitivity, and a mild burning sensation, can last
anywhere from several hours to several days.
In a very few cases, there may be some peeling of the outer layer of
the skin (as if recovering from a mild case of sunburn).
Unfortunately, high profile cases such as the well publicized demonstration
in Humboldt County, California, wherein officers applied OC directly to the
eyes of apparently peaceful anti-logging demonstrators, are widely broadcast
by the national media. In such
cases, debate ensues as to the appropriateness and necessity of aerosol use,
giving rise to statements equating use of aerosol weapons to “torture”
(Amnesty International, 1997). Following such incidents, some jurisdictions
rethink their use of aerosols, and sometimes ban further use by local police
(Chow, 1997). Since many of the
same agencies have ceased their use of striking implements, due a fear of
litigation, this often leaves officers with few non-lethal force
alternatives. These departments, then, have moved full circle in respect to
their use of force philosophies.
balance, it appears that routine use of aerosol weapons by police leads to
reductions in complaints of excessive force, while high profile, individual
cases often give rise to general discontent with use of force practices in
the affected jurisdictions.
the Supreme Court has declared that the standard for any use of force during
an arrest is objective reasonableness, it is necessary that officers and
departments take steps to assure a thorough understanding of that standard,
and its application to daily law enforcement activities.
Initially, the Court applied the standard in deadly force cases
(Tennessee v. Garner), but then followed Garner with other cases expanding
the application of the objective reasonableness test to all types of force.
In the most influential of these cases, Graham v. Connor (1989), the
Court further indicated that reasonableness should be determined based upon
a reasonable officer’s assessment of four factors; the nature of the crime
at issue, whether the suspect is an immediate threat to the safety of the
officer or others, whether the suspect is attempting to evade arrest through
resistance or flight, and the degree to which the situation is tense,
uncertain and rapidly evolving. This
last point acknowledges that officers must act with little time to analyze
and consider circumstances, rather than with the luxury of 20-20 hindsight
(Graham v. Connor).
light of these cases, and others, there has been much discussion in the
legal arena regarding the need for law enforcement to properly direct and
supervise the involvement of officers in high-risk activities.
In fact, the Supreme Court has made it clear that policymakers have
an obligation to review the daily activities of governmental employees in
order to assure that those activities likely to result in potential
constitutional violations are addressed with training programs (City of
Canton v. Geraldine Harris, 1989). To
not do so, according to the Court, is to be deliberately indifferent (and
therefore unreasonable) to the potential constitutional violation. This is
particularly true as regards the use of force to make an arrest.
cases filed against law enforcement officers and agencies for inappropriate
or excessive use of force, and for illegal arrests, are filed in federal
court. This is due to the
constitutional limitations on such activity, as well as the potential for
plaintiff’s attorneys to collect their fees from the defendant.
Many of the resultant lawsuits contain language regarding the
obligation for departments to manage officers’ selection of force
implements or techniques. Additionally,
its common for court opinions to focus on the need for job related training;
i.e. training that is commensurate with the duties of officers.
In order for
departments to demonstrate the job relatedness of their use of force
training programs, they must collect data regarding use of weapons and
techniques, the success rates of various control methods, and the types and
numbers of injuries to officers and suspects. For this information to be as
useful as possible, and as an analysis tool for departmental planning and
management, it must be both valid and reliable.
As such, the information must be as accurate as departmental managers
can make it, through development of simple, effective data collection
One of the most
important aspects of a data collection strategy is that the officers must
see the collection process, and the planned usage of the data, as
non-threatening. If officers
believe that the information they record will be used against them
personally in some way, they may be inclined to inaccurately or incorrectly
report data. This undermines
the entire reporting process, and indicates a fundamental breakdown in the
Access to Information
in the public believe that police critical data management practices are
highly suspect (Enochs, 1995). This tendency creates distrust between the
public and the police. Another
area of legal concern, and one that has gained much attention within the
past few years is that of public access to police information and
statistics. The federal Freedom
of Information Act (1966), as well as various state “sunshine” laws, or
open information laws, guarantee citizens access to most public information
(Doherty, 1996). While some
sensitive information can be protected (e.g. on-going investigations, etc.),
other information must be available and released upon demand within a
specified time frame (ACLU, 1997). In
fact, some state courts have reaffirmed this requirement by ordering
departments to release information (ACLU, 1998).
need to respond to legal requests for information and records, to
demonstrate the job relatedness of policies and training programs, and to
comply with the requirements of various “open information” statutes,
points to the need to collect, analyze, and maintain accurate databases of
are two other dimensions to consider as regards the current legal
environment. The first of these
is the completeness of critical data, and the second is the ability to
ascertain what information should not be released and to act to secure it.
are frequently accused of acting inappropriately in a high-risk incident,
leading to the serious injury or death of a citizen.
When this occurs, it is not uncommon for the public and the news
media to examine the elements of the particular incident, without
considering the broader context within which it occurred.
In order to properly manage its risks, law enforcement must manage
its needs and the expenditure of its limited resources based upon a
cost-benefit analysis of its most frequent activities.
However, law enforcement incidents are examined as individual
occurrences, often without heed to the larger context.
An excellent example of this is a high-speed pursuit.
facts of a particular pursuit related incident, despite a tragic outcome,
might not support an ultimate finding of liability on the part of the
police. However, the media, and
the “Court of Public Opinion”, may damn the actions of the police, based
on the outcome and distorted perceptions of the frequency with which similar
outcomes occur. In short, the
primary focus may be on the number of catastrophic incidents over the past
few years, without regard to the broader context of similar incidents where
no catastrophic outcome occurred.
example, it sounds bad to say that a dozen people have been injured in
police pursuits in the last three years.
But if a department has accurately collected all the pertinent data,
it sounds less troubling to say that over the past three years, out of
45,000 traffic stops,
12 people have been injured. One
can readily see the importance of collecting information on all incidents,
regardless of outcome.
as important as collecting and presenting available data for release is the
identification of information that cannot or should not be released. Court cases have generally held that sensitive information
regarding internal practices, on-going investigations, and some personnel
information are generally exempt from freedom-of-information requests, and
may be protected (Gifford v. Freedom of Information Commission, 1993).
Writings and Issues
Regarding Use of Force
media draws attention to a small number of widely publicized incidents
involving excessive use of force, thereby sensitizing the public to the
issue of police use of force. Lawsuits
have become commonplace, and complaints against officers by individual
citizens, as well as, special interest groups, have also become more
prolific. Some groups are even more forthright. “Allegations of police abuse are rife in cities throughout
the country and take many forms” (Human Rights Watch, 1998).
studies have been conducted into the alleged excessive use of force by
police. One study indicates
that a small percentage of police-public interactions involve the use of
force (Bayley and Garofalo, 1989). Another study that is currently ongoing
indicates that when an injury results from a police use of force, it is
likely to be minor (NIJ, 1999). The
same NIJ study indicates that a small percentage of officers account for a
disproportionate number of use of force incidents, but that police use of
force seems to be unrelated to an officer’s personal characteristics, such
as age, gender, and ethnicity. The NIJ study calls for more research in this area.
much can be learned from these studies, fundamental questions remain
regarding consistency of methodology and commonality of terms.
Additionally, training of officers is non-standard throughout the law
enforcement profession. Some
officers have received little or no training in use of weapons. It is
difficult to determine the validity of data reported in these studies by
officers that are not trained in the proper defensive tactics or use of
non-lethal weapons. A parallel
issue is the general lack of information on policy, and training to the
policy, within the various departments.
Issues such as the hiring and discipline policies within each
department, and the use of technologies by each agency are unknown.
most case studies, it has been shown that the vast majority of police use of
force incidents occurred in arrest related situations, and that a high
percentage of those arrested were under the influence of drugs or alcohol (NIJ,
studies into police use of force are actually studies into police use of
excessive force. These studies
frequently miss the larger issues regarding use of force.
In order to fully understand the issues inherent in use of force, a
broader view need be taken. Data
should be collected on all uses of force, and examination of the trends
apparent in excessive use of force cases should be contrasted with trends
indicated in those cases where no complaint of excessive force is received.
This process would allow those excessive cases to be placed into
proper context, regarding overall police use of force practices.
some research has been done of late regarding use of striking weapons
(Holtz, 1996), the age of the technology and the law enforcement
profession’s concerns with the degree of injury caused through use of such
weapons as batons, blackjacks and the like, has caused most recent research
efforts to be aimed at finding methods for less invasive control of a
subject’s actions. While such
futuristic technologies as “sticky foam” and electronic stunning devices
are still under development, options available today include
“capture-nets”, and non-traditional projectile ammunition (typically
fired from a shotgun). This
ammunition can be lethal if certain areas of the body are struck at close
range. These alternatives,
however, each have their drawbacks, and their practicality for the average
officer is difficult to determine.
research goes forward, law enforcement has an immediate need for a simple,
easy to carry and deploy, non-lethal alternative.
Although controversy surrounds the decision, many departments have
selected an aerosol spray weapon as that alternative.
Because of their widespread adoption within such a relatively short
time frame, a detailed examination of the literature is warranted.
of the actual research in the area of aerosol weapons use is actually not
aerosol weapon research at all. It
arises from two related fields; military use of traditional chemical
munitions such as CS and CN,
and use of capsaicin based products in the food and pharmacological
industries. Much of this
information is dated, having originated several decades ago.
While it should be given general consideration in any body of
information regarding use of chemical agents as weapons, many questions
remain regarding its applicability to the issues currently under
research examined the effects on individuals of exposure via an airborne
cloud of chemical agent. Typically,
this research (as released to the public) focused on issues such as the
concentration of agent in a given volume of air (e.g., in an enclosed room)
required to incapacitate or to kill. While
these studies and early civilian research were focused on short-term
exposures, the real issue was a desire to determine the range within which
enough chemical agent existed to incapacitate, without resulting in
lethality. Issues regarding the
speed of incapacitation were generally not analyzed (Jones, 1976).
into the use of capsaicin in foodstuffs has typically considered the effects
of chronic exposure in diet. Such
issues as desensitization of the tongue and esophagus, and the effects of
continued capsaicin exposure on the stomach lining, are of limited relevance
when considering the acute effects of a one-time exposure to a spray weapon.
is some anecdotal information available regarding the effectiveness of
aerosol weapons by police. Much
of this information is drawn from actual usage reports, completed by
officers in the field. Some law
enforcement agencies have compiled this information in an attempt to
ascertain the operational impact of aerosol use.
additional facts tend to prevent definitive use of data from these studies. First, many different brands of aerosols are involved, with
differing concentrations of active chemical agents. It is extremely
difficult to compare a study based on one product to a study based on a
different product. This problem
is exacerbated by a lack of commonality in the aerosol industry, in respect
to terminology and product information.
training of officers is non-standard throughout the law enforcement
profession. Some officers have
received viable training, while others have received minimal training or no
training at all. It is
difficult to determine the veracity of data reported by officers that are
not trained in proper use of their aerosol weapons.
Similarly, there is a general lack of information on training levels
in departmental studies, which makes it difficult to evaluate the ability of
officers to accurately report usage incidents.
these problems, some information can be gleaned from these reports.
In most case studies, injuries to both citizens and officers are
reduced significantly, while complaints against police for excessive force
are also reduced. Portland,
Oregon, police noted an 83% reduction in subject injuries and a 61% decrease
in officer injuries when OC is used. This
was coupled with a 43% reduction in complaints of excessive force (Gauvin,
1995). A study of OC use in the Baltimore County, Maryland, Police
Department noted that officers were injured in only 11 % of incidents where
aerosol was used, and that most injuries were very minor.
A suspect injury rate of 8% was also noted.
Pre-OC data were insufficient to make a comparison, but the study
concluded that these numbers represent a significant reduction based on
trending analyses. A reduction
in complaints against officers of 53% paralleled other data (International
Association of Chiefs of Police, 1995).
and Doerner (1995) reviewed use of force reports in the Tallahassee,
Florida, Police Department, for a 20-month period prior to December 31,
1995. They found significant reductions in subject and officer
injuries when OC was employed, compared to use of an impact weapon.
Officers were injured 24.6% of the time when impact weapons were
used, but only 3.6% of the time when OC was used.
Similar figures existed for suspect injuries; 25% of the time when
impact weapons were used, and 5.1% of the time with OC use.
1995 study by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP)
reported a 90% OC effectiveness rate. Other research by the same body
indicates that while aerosols may have been employed in arrest situations
which eventually resulted in the death of the suspect, very limited evidence
(if any) links the use of OC with the cause of death (Granfield, Onnen &
researchers have identified potential problems with the use of OC spray by
law enforcement. Doubet (1996)
identified possible medical implications in the use of OC by police, and
cautioned against use in response to low levels of suspect resistance.
However, a study of aerosol use in North Carolina found that, out of
2,912 officers sprayed in training and 1,451 citizens sprayed during arrest
or detention situations, only eight injuries were reported, and all were
minor irritations of the skin or eyes (Craig, 1994).
(1993, 1996) cautioned against replacing competent defensive tactics
training with OC spray, as spray may be ineffective against highly
motivated, goal oriented individuals. More traditional control methods may
be necessary, and officers should still be trained in their use. At least
one police officer has been killed, with his death attributed to
inappropriate training (Merrick, 1995).
Training with aerosols should be as realistic as possible, ideally
involving simulated combat scenarios and full facial spray “hits”
special interest groups have collected data which, based upon each group’s
assessment of meaning, indicates that use of aerosols leads to an
unacceptably high risk of death or serious injury.
The most notable collection of information is presented by the
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), with the Southern California Chapter
being the most active and vociferous, issuing reports in 1993 and again in
1995. It is difficult to consider these data collections “research” (for
many of the same reasons stated above, with respect to studies based on
usage reports); however, publication of these and similar compilations have
brought significant pressure to bear for changes in law enforcement aerosol
the 1970’s and 1980’s much research was done into the use of deadly
force by police. Perhaps the
seminal work in this area is Deadly Force: What We Know, published by
the Police Executive Research Forum (Geller and Scott, 1992).
It is essentially a compilation of most early research into the issue
of deadly force, coupled with analysis of police involved shootings in 13
large American cities. One of
the most telling points made in “What We Know” regarding the management
of police-citizen conflict is that police must learn to study both successes
and failures (Geller and Scott). Much
of the law enforcement profession’s time is spent studying success and
rationalizing or justifying failure. Only
through thorough study of those incidents resulting in negative outcomes can
law enforcement hope to begin the corrective processes necessary to enhance
management of such violent encounters.
every police shooting that leads to injury of a citizen will result in a
lawsuit (Scharf and Binder, 1983). This
is only one of the negative outcomes possible in a police involved shooting;
others are injury to officers and citizens, negative public relations, civil
unrest, damaged equipment, lowered morale among officers, reduced work
product in the days and weeks following a shooting, increases in complaints
against officers due to officers “attitude problems” following the
shooting of an officer, and many others.
fear of litigation drives many law enforcement management programs.
This is true despite the fact that many other issues are far more
costly, both in dollars and in reduced work output.
The ripple effect from a shooting is often felt for years within a
police organization. One of the
primary mechanisms by which this occurs is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD),
a physiological-psychological aftereffect of any traumatic event.
Departments often try to deny the existence of PTSD, or to downplay
its importance to the officer and cost to the department.
This is far from the truth, and is actually harmful to both entities,
as it compounds the injury caused by PTSD.
Departments have nothing to gain, and much to lose by taking this
position (Artwohl and Christensen, 1997).
departments that have relegated officer involved shootings to the
“litigation drawer” in their hierarchy of concern often focus a
disproportionate part of their training budget and time on proper use of
firearms. Some departments
conduct firearms training as often as monthly, with many more training
quarterly and semi-annually. While firearms training is important because of the potential
for negative outcomes, if often bears no relation to what is actually
happening on the street. Much
more training should be done in the more common yet less dramatic skills
that officers use every day, such as driving and defensive tactics.
The more realistic and job related training is, the more benefit will
be gained from it (Ashley, 1995).
of the key areas where police receive little training is in the area of
verbal management skills. One
researcher has pointed out that the explosion of violence that sometimes
occurs between an officer and a citizen is frequently the result of the
demand for respect that each puts upon the other (Toch, 1969).
When police managers emphasize deadly force training at the expense
of training in the less invasive aspects of control, officers can become
acculturated to choose the more harmful alternative in an actual
confrontation (Brill, 1977).
Another operational area of law enforcement that sometimes receives too
little attention is emergency vehicle operations.
Increasingly officers are participating in law enforcement driver
training, often prompted by litigation arising from motor vehicle pursuits.
While this increase in training is helpful in reducing the risks of
pursuit, it usually does not address forcible termination techniques such as
roadblocks and intentional vehicle contact.
Both of these techniques have been classified as seizures under the
fourth amendment to the United States Constitution.
The former of these can easily result in a fatal outcome if
improperly managed (Brower v. Inyo County, 1989), while the latter most
certainly will, when undertaken at high speeds, or when vehicle size is
disproportionate (Donovan v. Milwaukee, 1994).
Many police procedural documents classify both of these forcible
seizures as “deadly force”, although the courts are split on whether
they actually do constitute such a high level of control.
Nonetheless, it is clear that they do constitute a relatively high
level of control, and might constitute deadly force in some contexts.
It is therefore imperative that departments begin training officers
in how to utilize these techniques, especially where they are expressly
authorized by policy (Canton v. Harris, 1989).
this study did not consider driving related use of force methodologies,
these issues remain, and should be addressed in the future.
appears to be little, if any research into the effects of officer confidence
on use of force incident outcomes. Officer
injury rates and numbers of excessive force complaints, and the degree to
which an officer’s confidence in their ability to manage resistant
subjects impacts both outcomes, seems a field where much can be learned.
has been some research into confidence and training, and their combined
effects on the ability of test subjects to perform certain tasks, but even
that is limited in direct application to the instant question.
Costanzo (1992) found that providing information alone to test
subjects did not increase their ability to perform, although it did increase
their confidence in the accuracy of their performance. Beyer (1990)
attempted to discover if gender differences were related to differences in
self-confidence regarding performance, but was unable to determine if biases
played a role in any deviance due to ambiguities in interpretations of test
results. However, another study
indicated that gender differences are more detectable in general confidence,
but that confidence in actual ability is dependent on the context of the
activity (Lundberg, Fox and Punccohar, 1994)
research has indicated that subjects who receive preparatory information
prior to a stressful event (such as a shooting or other use of force
incident) experience greater confidence in their ability to perform
properly, and do in fact perform at a higher level (Inzano, Driskell, Salas
and Johnston, 1996).
analysis of the effectiveness of stress-based training found that such
training reduced performance anxiety and enhanced performance.
Such factors as the experience level of the trainer, the training
setting, and the type of trainees involved showed no reduction in the
benefit of stress based training (Saunders, Driskell, Johnston and Salas,
Martocchio (1994) found that subjects learned skills better when told that
their topic was a “learnable skill”, rather than those told that the
skill was unlikely to be learned. Anxiety
levels of the former group were reduced through training, while anxiety in
the “unlearnable” group remained high or increased.
of this research for officer training in use of force incidents seem clear.
Differences in gender or type of trainee should have minimal effect
on their ability to learn, and more stressful training will produce less
anxious practitioners. If a student believes that they can be successful, they are
more likely to succeed than those who don’t believe they can.
Lastly, the more relevant information a trainee receives, the more
confident they are likely to be in their ability to perform, but they need
more than information – they need skill development training to reinforce
the information they have received.
study sought a correlation between levels of formal use of force training
and officer confidence, and the frequency of injuries sustained by officers
in use of force incidents. Additionally,
this study sought to discover any relationship between an officer’s
confidence level in managing resistive behavior and the frequency of citizen
complaints of excessive force.
order to facilitate this study, three hypotheses were presented for testing:
levels of formal training have no impact on officer confidence levels in
dealing with use of force incidents.
levels of formal training have no impact on the frequency of officer
injuries in use of force incidents.
officer confidence levels have no impact on the frequency of excessive force
complaints or on officer injury rates
types of survey instruments were developed to facilitate data collection
(see appendices). The first of
these was an Officer Use of Force Survey, to be administered anonymously to
front line law enforcement personnel (patrol officers, detectives and first
line supervisors, as well as any other personnel primarily engaged in
routine police duties). The
second was an Agency Head Use of Force Questionnaire, to be administered
through a focus interview with the chief executive of each agency, or a
senior command officer if the chief executive was unavailable.
packages were distributed to 25 law enforcement agencies in Michigan during
the months of March and April 2000. The
study sample was comprised of agencies varying in geographical location and
agency size. The smallest agency sampled had six officers, while the largest
had 100. The mean department
size was 33, while the Median was 23, and the Mode was 6 (only 2 departments
of this size). There were 12
city police departments of varying sizes, 1 city public safety department, 6
township police departments, and 3 county sheriff’s departments.
Three departments declined to participate.
the 22 departments participating, 20 agency executives completed focus
interviews. One city police
chief and one township police chief were unreachable during the period of
interviews were conducted with senior command staff at 20 agencies. Demographic information was collected regarding number of
officers, annual number of calls for service, and annual number of arrests.
Further information was collected regarding the nature of the
department’s primary service area, and its population.
information was collected regarding four primary areas; written policies and
procedures, officer injuries during use of force incidents, numbers of
excessive force complaints, and each department’s use of force reporting
and review process. Regarding
this last item, specific questions were asked regarding the precipitating
events necessary to trigger a use of force report and the formalized agency
review of a use of force incident.
possible, anecdotal information was collected regarding types of weapons
authorized, and frequencies of training with each.
This data collection was difficult due to the nature of the
information, and was not consistent across the sample of interviews.
723 officers surveyed, 417 returned completed instruments, for a response
rate of 57.7 percent. Departments
were requested to have their officers complete their surveys voluntarily
during work hours. In order
that each chief executive’s focus interview responses could be matched to
the survey response from his or her agency, each department was assigned an
agency reporting code number. Those numbers were recorded on each survey
distributed within that agency. No
names or departmental ranks were recorded, so as to provide an added
safeguard of anonymity.
the outset of this project, the authors began with an assumption that each
officer had used some type of force or control in the course of his or her
police duties. That force or
control could range from a slight intentional physical contact with a
subject to the use of deadly force. The
author’s did not distinguish levels of control, but left respondents to
their own definitions and assumptions.
Officer respondents were asked basic demographic questions such as age, time
on the job, and education level. Respondents
were also asked for data regarding the frequency of work assignments with
another officer, frequency of injuries sustained during use of force
incidents, the frequency of those injuries sustained while assigned with a
partner, and the number of excessive force complaints filed against the
officer. Data was also
collected regarding non-lethal weapons authorized by the department.
Selection options were Spray Weapon (OC Only), Spray Weapon (Other),
Flashlight Authorized as an Impact Weapon, Collapsible Baton, and an area to
list any others. Questions in
regard to the frequency of formal training on use of force policies,
frequency of non-lethal force training and frequency of firearms training
were also asked.
authors then asked individual officers to respond in regard to their
understanding of their department’s use of force policies, and whether
they felt that they had adequate tools/weapons and training, as well as
frequent enough training to accomplish their job.
The final question was whether the officer felt confident in his or
her abilities to handle resistant subjects without getting hurt.
was undertaken based upon the following three hypotheses. Each is stated as a negative postulate.
levels of formal training have no impact on officer confidence levels in
dealing with use of force incidents.
levels of formal training have no impact on the frequency of officer
injuries in use of force incidents.
officer confidence levels have no impact on the frequency of excessive force
complaints or on officer injury rates
While a certain amount of other data was collected, the authors’ have
chosen to limit this analysis to those variables that impact directly on
these three hypotheses. Study
of other data will be undertaken in the future.
Based upon analysis of data from both survey instruments, it appears that
lower levels of formal training have little or no effect on officer’s
confidence levels in dealing with use of force incidents.
While some officers reported that they do not receive training in use
of force often enough, they still indicated a generally high level of
confidence in dealing with incidents.
It appears that current levels of training are generally successful in
maintaining a low level of officer injuries in use of force incidents.
Most departments train at least annually in use of force, and also
report few injuries. Those
injuries reported are of a minor nature.
Findings from the Officer Survey indicate a generally high level of
officer confidence in handling use of force incidents, as well as a low
number of citizens’ complaints regarding excessive force. Findings from the Agency Head Questionnaire indicate that few
such complaints are received, and that those that are received are almost
always found to be unfounded, or are withdrawn by the complainant.
It is difficult to determine from this data set whether or not lower
levels of confidence would impact on complaint levels and officer injuries,
as officer respondents to this survey indicated an almost uniformly high
level of confidence.
authors’ believe that there are several areas that demand further study,
as well as several areas that the design of this study left only partially
Frequency of police driver training, particularly in the
higher risk areas of emergency response and pursuit, focusing on the
forcible termination of pursuits (as use of force incidents);
Officer perceptions of the need for more and more frequent
training in verbal management skills;
The impact on use of force incident outcomes when officers
receive little or no training in verbal management skills;
More detailed analysis of contributing factors to officer
Research into the relationship between incidents wherein
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