The police and corrections professions have made enormous changes over the years to enhance their operations and accountability. Improved technology, adoption of best practices, revised training and procedures, and new programs have made a positive
impact on how American policing has evolved over the years. These changes have protected police and correctional officers as well as citizens, while conducting operations in a complicated environment.
One important area that impacts not only the police and jail officers, but society as a whole, is the use of force by officers. Federal and state laws cover the legal aspect of police use of force and its intended use by police officers. The social implications of an agency’s use of force are rarely, if ever, reviewed by the public.
Recent events in Maryland, Missouri, and South Carolina have exposed significant differences in the administrative accountability of police use of force practices. Societal expectation that the nation’s police have consistent internal force review systems is simply not true. The very definition of force differs from state- to-state, and the justification of force often varies locally by agency policies.
For example, a police agency’s definition of the use of force could be holding someone down on the ground when handcuffing an individual. In another agency a definition for the use of force is if someone has multiple stitches. Is pointing a firearm at a person a use
of force or a show of force?
Some police agencies provide feedback on how they use force – how much force was used and against whom, which is released to their communities. Some police agencies are more open and transparent with use of force outcomes and embrace these discussions as part of an agency’s community policing initiative. But again, there is no consistent reporting of data points, evaluation of force encounters, and the successes or failures are not known in our profession.
Police agencies are aware of force incidents in their agency, but they cannot compare and learn from agency-to-agency data across the United States. For several years, one can simply review the “flashpoints” of policing events that provide for headline news. Most
notably, these flashpoints have occurred over many years and are not new.
• Most of the flashpoints center on the police use of force and predictably on deadly force. In order for the policing profession to have a legitimate relationship with the people it serves, will require a dramatic change in how we capture, document, investigate, review and hold ourselves accountable – to our superiors and to our communities.
The authors believe, and this article demonstrates, that every police agency and jail should be required to report all uses of force and follow consistent use of force practices. We, as a profession, need a universal definition of the use of force: the collection of
exacting data points, and management review systems that allow for recognition across multiple policing agencies.
Mandatory reporting of all instances force will bring about a greater appreciation from those we serve about the difficult decisions our officers make in a split-second. Alignment will occur across police agencies in identifying use of force policies and practices that work and those that do not, and the decisions and behavior of officers that work and those that do not – both of citizens that have force used on them and the officers who use force.
Ultimately, this paradigm shift will bring about a wealth of research data points that will allow our profession and researchers to examine use of force data and to learn intelligently from force encounters.