Does Your Agency Reflect These Use Of Force Trends?

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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

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