Law enforcement has come under much scrutiny in recent months, especially as a result of incidents involving use of force. When a police officer responds to resistance, force can be applied in many different ways. Examples include soft-hand, hard-hand, chemical spray, baton, Taser and firearm responses. These applications are categorized as less lethal and lethal.
President Trump signed the Executive Order on Safe Policing for Safe Communities on June 16, 2020, to encourage agencies to adopt higher standards related to use of force and de-escalation. Section 2 of the order outlines the benefits of credentialing and specific topics that should be reviewed, such as policies and training related to use of force and de-escalation techniques. It also describes management tools to help identify when officers need intervention.
The order notes that law enforcement should be constantly assessed and accountable to their communities. One avenue recommended in the order for accomplishing this is to have departments assessed by an independent credentialing body. For example, law enforcement departments in South Carolina can use the SC Police Accreditation Coalition for credentialing.
Section 2 also makes note of an early warning system to help identify officers who may require intervention. Recently, the Third Annual Police Peer Intervention Executive Leadership Conference highlighted an intervention program developed by the New Orleans Police Department, known as Ethical Policing is Courageous, or EPIC. The conference also discussed the Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement Project. These efforts have a common purpose: encouraging officers to hold other officers accountable as part of a peer intervention program.
When officers respond to a resistant subject or use force to gain control, each use of force is considered a separate action. For example, if an officer strikes a person with a baton, each strike must be individually justified. With any use of force, an officer must be able to articulate specific reasoning each time force is applied and be able to document each use of force as a separate action. Every report on use of force should be reviewed by the department’s command staff to determine if the type of force used was reasonable and necessary.
Members of the SC Municipal Insurance Trust and the SC Municipal Insurance and Risk Financing Fund have access to model law enforcement policies provided by the Legal and Liability Risk Management Institute. SCMIT and SCMIRF members also have access to an online training platform, LocalGovU, which offers courses approved by the SC Criminal Justice Academy, such as De-escalation and Minimizing Use of Force, Conflict and Dispute Resolution, Implicit Bias and Risk Management for Law Enforcement.
The concern about use of force articulated in this summer’s presidential executive order has prompted many law enforcement organizations to change how they use force. Change is inevitable. Law enforcement departments should not just change to blend in and hope not to be seen or caught doing something inappropriate. Departments can change for the better, and in doing so they can change their officers and change their communities.