When an officer is presented with a situation that requires the use of force, law enforcement is allowed to use an appropriate amount to diffuse the situation and protect themselves and the people around them. According to the National Institute of Justice, there is no agreed-upon definition, universally, for use of force. The term could mean anything from verbal force, physical restraint, “less-lethal force,” or lethal force. Although there is no specific definition, there is a guide law officers must follow to apply use of force, called the use of force continuum.

As stated by the Department of Justice, the use of force continuum is a tiered guide which outlines what officers should do in specific, dangerous circumstances. Officers are expected and held responsible for making the appropriate use of force response to match the situation. Beginning from the most non-confrontational level, officer presence is the first use of force response. In this response, an officer is simply present to try to diffuse a situation. The officer’s presence is expected to be “professional and non-threatening.”

The next level of response is verbalization. This level is also not physical. This response is often used during a traffic violation when an officer calmly and non-threateningly asks for a registration and identification. At this point, commands given by an officer are authoritative but generally relaxed. If an officer needs to raise their voice to be understood or complied with, he or she can speak louder and with shorter commands, such as, “Stop,” or “Don’t move.”

use of force for police

Should the situation escalate and there is non-compliance, an officer can use empty hand control, or use their body to “gain control of the situation.” An officer at this response level can use what is considered a “soft technique,” which means use of a hold, grabbing, and joint locks for restraint. In this same level, officers can also use “hard techniques,” which are punches and kicks to restrain.

At the next level is when officers can use less lethal methods of restraint, including blunt impact, chemical use of force, or conducted energy devices. Examples of these are a baton, pepper spray or stun guns (i.e. Tasers).


Use of Lethal Force

The last level of use of force is lethal force, where officers can use deadly weapons, such as guns, to stop a situation from escalating and causing harm to themselves and others. In this type of situation, officers need to quickly respond and decide what method is most appropriate at the moment. However, it’s when an officer abuses this power that people can get seriously injured and acts of excessive violence occur that may even result in death.

What is a reasonable use of force is deciphered by the officer in a split second decision, and sometimes, it results in the misuse of power, reports the New York Times. In cases such as Tyre Nichols, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, use of force was drastically misused.

Body cameras and cell phone footage have significantly changed the way officers react to situations, the number of use of force situations, and even civilian complaints. Since last year, over 30 states have passed laws for reform and police oversight, aiming to give state power to these decisions, rather than local governments. Opinions are split about whether or not these reforms will correct the excessive force problem, but there are efforts and attention being brought to light in more and more states each year.


What Happens if Your Loved One was Seriously Injured or Died In-Custody?

When it comes to our loved ones, we don’t have time to wait for new laws or perspectives to change—we need justice now. If you believe your loved one was wrongfully injured or died in-custody, we want to hear your case.