Force Science News #287:

How one city kept the peace after a white cop/black suspect OIS

 

In this issue:

 

I. Does your agency reflect these use-of-force trends?

II. Appeals Court favors videos to resolve "disputes of fact"

III. Force Science Research Team interested in intel on unintentional discharges

IV. Mark your calendar...

 

I. Does your agency reflect these use-of-force trends?

 

A new use-of-force survey reveals that the use of batons as control or striking weapons is fading out, ground fighting warrants greater emphasis in training, and despite the hyperbolic media coverage of late most arrests are effected with verbal communication alone, with deadly force by police an extreme rarity.

 

These and other findings about the current status of force as a street option come from the anonymous responses of nearly 300 LEOs to a questionnaire posted online by Dr. Michael Schlosser, director of the University of Illinois Police Training Institute, and statistical analyst Michael Gahan. Participants represented a broad range of department sizes and experience, though all worked in Illinois and more than 90% were male.

 

The full study, appearing in the journal Law Enforcement Executive Forum, can be accessed for a small fee by clicking here. An abstract of the study is available there without charge.

 

For purposes of the survey, force was defined as "any tactics an officer uses on a resistive, combative, or deadly force assailant, [including] joint manipulation, pressure points, takedowns, strikes, intermediate weapons, and use of a firearm." Non-force options, used on "cooperative" arrestees, included verbal communication, control holds without torque or pain, and handcuffing techniques.

 

Here are highlights of the findings:

 

FORCE FREQUENCY. Recent events in the news "have given the appearance that officers often use force, and deadly force can seem more prevalent than it is in reality," the authors note. In fact, "most interactions between police and citizens...involve a small likelihood of force. Even...the majority of arrests require no force at all."

 

• Most officers said they are "most likely to gain cooperation using only their verbal skills." According to 96% of respondents, arrestees "frequently or very frequently cooperate" with their voice commands alone.

 

• More than half the officers (57%) said it is "rare or very rare" for them to use personal weapons, such as fists and feet. Another 15% said they never use such defenses.

 

• Nearly 9 out of 10 (86.2%) said they have never used deadly force.

 

• In arresting active resisters (those who "tense up, pull away, or run"), officers are "more likely" to use standing control techniques and takedowns, rather than force options like OC spray or TASERs to gain control. Nearly 87% said they "never or very rarely/rarely" meet active resistance with OC, and about 6 out of 10 reported "never or very rarely" using TASERs. In an "interesting finding," the researchers report, officers were "most likely to simply 'display' a TASER to gain compliance than...to actually 'deploy' a TASER."

 

• Even in dealing with an "aggressive" assailant, whose behavior "is likely to cause physical injury," officers in practice tend to use takedowns by a wide margin to gain control, rather than employing a TASER.

 

BATONS GATHERING DUST. Almost all officers (96%) carry a baton, the survey found, but a slight majority (51%) have never used it as a striking tool. About half reported that they "rarely/very rarely" use the device even for leverage or control, with another 40% saying they never do so.

 

"It seems as though the baton, once a commonly used police tool, is losing its prominence," the researchers note. "[It] is not a 'go to' tool for the majority of officers.... [I]t is possible that the use of batons, even when appropriate, appears to be more aggressive, and officers are concerned about public opinion."

 

GROUNDED. Among other questions, the survey asked "how often a fight ends up on the ground when attempting to arrest both active resisters and aggressive assailants." Nearly 6 in 10 (58.1%) of participants said they "frequently or very frequently" go to the ground when dealing with aggressive assailants, with about 4 in 10 (38%) saying that's the case with active resisters.

 

MISCELLANY. Among other findings:

 

• "There were no correlations between use of force and officer experience." (The sample size of females was too small to determine statistical correlations.)

 

• Officers on smaller departments (50 sworn or less) are "more likely to be provided with a TASER" by their agencies than those on larger departments. All told, 70% of survey participants carried TASERs, compared to well over 90% carrying OC and batons.

 

• Respondents reported most frequently telling arrestees they are under arrest after first making physical contact with them, although depending on circumstances officers may "use a wide range of approaches to arresting suspects" and getting them into a cuffing position.

 

TRAINING IMPACT. The findings of the survey suggest that law enforcement training needs to be rebalanced in certain important ways, the researchers state. Namely:

 

• "[O]fficer training should emphasize ground control/ground fighting as a larger part" of the curriculum.

 

• Given the "diminishing" use of batons and the possibility that "one day officers will no longer carry them," less time should be devoted to baton instruction.

 

• "[T]he display of TASERs should be addressed through scenario-based training at a greater level."

 

• Reflecting the fact that the survey showed that officers on smaller departments predictably are less likely to have backup on arrests, patrol personnel on those agencies "should be provided more training with single-officer arrest situations."

 

• Finally, because officers "seem to be doing a good job of communicating with arrestees" to gain cooperation, "the importance of verbal tactics should continue to be emphasized as one of the most important training skills for law enforcement officers."

 

Dr. Schlosser, lead author for the study, can be reached at: schlossr@illinois.edu

 

II. Appeals Court favors videos to resolve "disputes of fact"

 

In a recent decision, federal appellate justices gave special weight to dash-cam recordings in determining whether officers accused of excessive force are entitled to immunity from a civil rights lawsuit.

 

The case involved two Michigan sheriff's deputies who were denied a summary judgment exonerating them of wrongdoing by a district court judge who ruled that conflicting accounts of their force encounter should be evaluated in a trial. The deputies were appealing that decision.

 

Ordinarily, the 6th circuit Court of Appeals explained in ruling for the officers last month [July 2015], appellate justices are required by legal protocol to view disputed facts in a summary judgment appeal "in the light most favorable to the plaintiff" in determining whether a lawsuit should be dismissed.

 

But this case had what the Court termed "an added wrinkle": two dash-cam videos had captured "all the genuinely disputed facts" of the actions in question, the Court noted. In such circumstances, the majority opinion said, "we view the facts in the light depicted by the videotape[s]" in deciding whether the suit should proceed to trial.

 

The action depicted supported the deputies' version of events, the Court ruled, thus reversing the district judge's decision.

 

"This case should serve as an important reminder to officers and their attorneys that video recordings need to be carefully scrutinized," observes Dr. Bill Lewinski, executive director of the Force Science Institute.

 

"In this case, the decisive weight assigned to video worked in the officers' favor. But video evidence is not always so clarifying as it appears to be. With any recording, crucial subtleties need to be clearly identified and properly interpreted. Automatically accepting what video seems to show will not always be reliable."

 

The decision in this case, Rudlaff v. Gillispie, can be accessed in full, free of charge, by clicking here.

 

TENSE STOP IN THE WOODS. The litigation, alleging that the deputies violated a suspect's civil rights with the force they used to restrain him during a roadside encounter, grew from a winter afternoon traffic stop near the hamlet of Wellston, a popular fishing destination surrounded by national forest in northern Michigan. The suspect, driving on a suspended license, had a "history of drunk driving and getting physical with police officers after being stopped," according to the Court's written opinion.

 

The deputies claimed that during a 26-second encounter, the suspect exited his truck "voluntarily," and then proved true to his past--cursing, puffing out his chest, acting "highly agitated," defying instructions, and twice taking a swing at the officers as they tried to handcuff him. After one deputy attempted to subdue him with a knee strike ("ineffective"), the other brought him "immediately" to the ground with a single CEW discharge in dart mode. No further force was used once he submitted to handcuffing.

 

A lawsuit alleging that the suspect's constitutional rights were violated contended that both the knee strike and the CEW shot were excessive force. The suspect claimed he was "jerked out of the truck" and that he was attempting to comply with commands when the CEW was deployed against him "without warning."

 

"VISIBLE FICTION." The conflicting accounts ("disputed issues of material fact") warranted a trial, the district judge felt. But the appellate court majority ruled that the suspect's story "amounts to a 'visible fiction' in light of the dash-cam videos" from the deputies' respective patrol cars. That dual footage "strongly indicated his intentions were not innocent and compliant, but defiant and hostile," states the Court's written opinion.

 

"[It's] plain and simple: When a person resists arrest--say, by swinging his arms in the officer's direction, balling up, and refusing to comply with verbal commands--the officers can use the amount of force necessary to ensure submission," Circuit Judge David McKeague wrote. "A jury has nothing left to decide."

 

SOME DOUBT. One member of the three-judge appellate panel thought the videotapes were less conclusive. She argued, for example, that a jury might reasonably conclude that "rather than full-on 'swinging' " at deputies, the suspect's arm movements represented his simply jerking away from the officers. In short, she felt that the alleged resistance the suspect displayed was too trivial to warrant use of a CEW.

 

Nonetheless, given guidelines established by the U.S. Supreme Court, she agreed with the other justices that the officers still were entitled to qualified immunity from litigation and to a summary judgment in their favor.

 

More than five years after the incident occurred, the deputies' actions were at last sustained.

 

(An interesting side note: The record in this case offers an example of how an officer's memory can be incomplete after a high-intensity event. The deputy who delivered the CEW discharge had no recollection of having issued a verbal warning before firing, although video clearly recorded him telling the suspect to "relax, or else you're going to get tasered.")

 

Our thanks to Michael Brave, national/international litigation counsel for TASER International, Inc., and member/manager of LAAW International LLC, for alerting us to this decision.

 

III. Force Science Research Team interested in intel on unintentional discharges

 

The research team at the Force Science Institute is gathering information on unintentional discharges (UDs) to better understand the what, when and how surrounding these events.

 

If your agency collects information on UDs, please e-mail Force Science Behavioral Scientist Dawn Seefeldt at dawn.seefeldt@forcescience.org or call FSI headquarters at: (507) 389-1290 and leave your contact information. Any information shared will remain STRICTLY CONFIDENTIAL.

 

IV. Mark your calendar...

 

Police attorney and Force Science instructor Bill Everett will present the keynote address at the upcoming Violent Crimes & Robbery Conference, sponsored by the Salt Lake Violent Crimes Investigators Assn.

 

Everett will speak on understanding Force Science principles and the human dynamics of officer-involved shootings. The conference is slated for Sept. 9-11 at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center in West Valley City, UT.

 

For conference registration and information, CLICK HERE or visit http://slcpd.com/vcrconference2015

© 2017 Force Science Institute Ltd.