The Use of Force……..

There is a lot of real estate between a bully and sociopath and the rest of society. That real estate is where the police live. Today we are fascinated, or enraged as the case may be, by the police use of force. It is time we take a few minutes to look at this important aspect of policing from 30,000 feet.

There is a concept in policing that most departments rely on in the review of the use of physical force by it’s officers. This concept is called the Force Continuum a concept which establishes a scale for the degree of force that is necessary to meet force or the threatened use of force. It is clinical and seems easy enough, but it is not. The whole model is submerged in a murky cloud of uncertainty and relies on experience and judgement to apply properly. Today the police are being subjected to extreme criticism and second guessing on a topic that, unfortunately, is very much a part of the police responsibility to the people we serve. Let’s have a look.

Seems easy….it is not!

Today, I watched a police officer in New York being placed in a headlock by a thug in front of a jeering crowd of people. This cannot happen. At best, this thug should have been concerned with serious physical injury as a result of this encounter, or worse. He was not. That is what happens when we are lulled into believing that policing should be a game of conversation, kissing and teddy bears. It is not.

“If you are in a fair fight, you didn’t plan it properly”. Nick Lappos, Chief Pilot for Sikorsky Aircraft

Police officers cannot be subjected to physical force situations in which they lose. It is that simple. The vast majority of encounters with the police are resolved verbally as the vast majority of folks in freedom loving America are reasonable. Today, with the aid of instant television and cameras in every hand, we are blitzed with images of violent encounters between folks who despise authority and authority. All experienced police officers have been involved in physical force situations and it has become fashionable to second guess these encounters by certain politicians and the folks who support the elimination of the police function. We tend to forget that police officers bring a gun into every violent encounter with those that fight, therefore for us the stakes are inordinately high. The trigger on this gun can be pulled by either party in the fight. There is a good reason for our wariness in any encounter with the citizens we contact.

“The skillful fighter puts himself into a position which makes defeat impossible and does not miss the moment to defeat the enemy.” Sun Tzu

On a personal level, I once was threatened by a huge, cross dressing man, who held a linoleum knife in his hand, that I found only after placing him in a wall search position. He was driving a stolen car and had just left a station without paying for gasoline. He assured me that if he had the opportunity he would have “cut me in two” with the short blade. I was lucky as he was a violent offender with several resisting arrest charges in his jacket. He was hurt in this encounter, but easily could have been killed. The words of Sun Tzu, above, ring in my ears even today. I wish that I could say this was my only encounter involving physical force, but it most certainly was not. It is a part of policing.

The point that I am making is a simple one. For a certain, small, highly visible segment of our society, force is absolutely necessary to gain lawful compliance. There have been some 20 officers killed since the death of George Floyd at the hands of an aberrant police officer who will certainly face a significant penalty as a result of his actions. Police officers are seldom aware of what level of force may be necessary when they are in an enforcement situation. It is high time the police officer be accorded the same respect in these encounters as the individual on the other side of the contact. We cannot let thugs put officers in headlocks, douse officers with buckets of God knows what, hurl bricks at them and burn their cars to the ground. The answer is force, reasonably applied, with a good measure of judgement and training mixed into the response. The qualifiers aside, it is still force.

Even today, the words of Sun Tzu and Mr. Lappos are instructive. There will always be a segment of society that demands a forceful approach to problem resolution. This is what the police train for and are good at. A police officer, fully capable of superior violence, is exactly what you want between you and a thug hell bent on destruction. Trust me here as I have been that police officer.

The thinnest pancake has two sides. Let’s have a look at the police side, appreciatively, for a change.

Have a great week!

SR

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