When Does Necessary Force Become Excessive Force?
For as long as I can remember, I've been trained to fight with firearms, fist, foot, and any other weapon I can possibly get my hands on. I've been an effective and efficient fighter, both as a hobby and professionally, for a decent swathe of my lifetime. As such, I've always been disappointed, upset, and outraged when witnessing the police and their frequent excessive use of force; and after having experienced law enforcement training and enforcing the law firsthand, I can say without a doubt that these imbeciles aren't getting the hands-on knowledge they need to apply force responsibly and with care.
Warning: Graphic Content
Important Definitions and Clarification
In order to properly discuss this topic, we must first come to the important conclusion that distinguishes a law enforcement officer's legal rights as they concern use of force and what excessive force should actually be as explained by someone extensively trained to apply it. You see, the people who write the laws around officer rights haven't been trained in how to apply force, and those who have are often constrained to functioning within the demands of their inept superiors. This leaves a gaping hole between appropriate use of force and a complete lack of justice and regulation.
"Excessive force refers to force in excess of what a police officer reasonably believes is necessary. A police officer may be held liable for using excessive force in an arrest, an investigatory stop, or other seizures. A police officer may also be liable for not preventing another police officer from using excessive force.
Whether the police officer has used force in excess of what he reasonably believed necessary at the time of action is a factual issue to be determined by the jury."
Please draw your immediate attention to the phrase, "what a police officer reasonably believes is necessary," because this phrase is what gets an officer off the hook more often than not. What is necessary, legally, is vastly different between a citizen and a law enforcement officer; it is so vastly different that it should be called illegal without further question and written out of law and practice.
However, in order to solve the problem we must first know what the problem is; first and foremost, the problem is one of an inability to effectively legally define when force is necessary and unnecessary.
Defining When Force Is Necessary
It is often left up to a heavily biased jury and judge whether or not force, and the amount used, was actually necessary within the given context it was applied. This jury and judge, regularly, are untrained in the use of force and how to properly apply it in any given situation and thus are made to trust in their own uneducated human biases when determining whether or not excessive force was used. Due to this lack of training we must then fall back on the unbiased nature of the law, and leave it up to the officer to explain why they felt the use of force was necessary.
When we take a look at how George Floyd was ruthlessly killed, we see three officers on top of a helpless man begging for his life, for his mother, and for oxygen as his life was senselessly crushed out of him. In this situation, if I were the officer kneeling on George's head/neck region, I would have no choice but to fall back on the argument that I could not continue to struggle with Floyd and keep an eye on his friends that were yelling at me. Of course, that excuse wouldn't work, but the hold placed on Floyd allowed for a quick response to any situation that may arise.
Watching over the videos of George Floyd I could see the officers involved become more and more enraged as he and his friends appeared to try and argue with the officers. Arguing or otherwise being verbal should never constitute any escalation in the use of force, but I also noticed that Floyd seemed to be a bit wobbly and kept stumbling throughout his interaction with the police. Still, even when someone is wobbly and mildly resisting, escalation of force is not necessary.
Force is necessary however, any time you begin to lose control of the situation and it becomes a detriment to the suspect, officers, and/or the citizens and environment around the suspect. The level of force one is allowed to use is determined by whether or not they are law enforcement, and infrequently on context as it concerns law enforcement. In fact, law enforcement has this thing called the continuum of the use of force that they use to explain their actions.
The continuum of the use of force applies to both citizenry and law enforcement, and looks something like this:
We begin at the level of verbal confrontation and restraint, which means your job at this point is to talk down the suspect/aggressor. As a citizen you may go no further than verbal restraint, unless the suspect/aggressor gets physical with you; at which point you may then match their use of physical force against you in order to take them down and end the threat. Depending on which state you are in and the situation you are facing, your next steps will then be less-lethal force (chokes, tasers, break their limbs, etc.) and finally lethal force.
Be warned, law enforcement are allowed to ignore the continuum if at any point they deem it necessary to use excessive force to end a threat to themselves or those around the suspect. The continuum is there for legal purposes, to push liability more onto the officer and less on the city/state, and is more than regularly disregarded. However, as a citizen, you are held to a higher standard than police officers.
The continuum of force is something a citizen is required to follow to a T. A citizen must always respond to force with equal force, and therefor are held to a higher standard than law enforcement. Law enforcement get to use discretion, and may respond on any level they deem necessary to end the threat.
When Does Necessary Force Become Excessive Force
I'm going to be honest here and say that the only circumstances in which excessive force is deemed to have been used, seem to be when an officer is caught on camera murdering someone. Yes, when the public digs their teeth into the officer, precinct, city, state, etc. over the murder of an innocent human and they have proof, only then are excessive force claims taken at the highest levels of concern. The willful ignorance of those in power cannot change the fact that excessive force is regularly used to stop suspects.
I say that excessive force is used regularly because even our boys stationed in the Middle East are held to a higher standard than the police are. Isn't that nuts? Our soldiers putting their life on the line, even as they sleep in their racks and bunks, are held to a higher standard in their use of force than law enforcement here in the states.
When in the military, stationed somewhere like the Middle East, you are required to learn, understand, and function strictly within the rules of engagement. To ensure you do not forget the rules of engagement, we all get these things called ROE cards when we take a post with a specific mission. These cards express the escalation protocol for conflict, and how to approach enforcing the rules around a specific post.
Take for example being posted at an intersection as a road guard, and your job is to ensure that you keep any and every vehicle and pedestrian from passing because they may or may not be a lethal threat. In such a situation you have an ROE card that tells you how to deal with each and every possible threat that approaches. Your ROE card will look a little something like this:
- Verbally confront the threat and ask them to turn around.
- Increase verbal confrontation and intimidate with voice if need be.
- Take on a more aggressive stance, increase verbal confrontation.
- Bring rifle to firing position, continue verbal aggression and gesturing.
- Approach threat if need be, continue verbal aggression.
- Physically deter the threat, maintaining situational/spatial awareness and superiority.
- Detain the threat and radio for further instructions when able.
- Release the threat when operations are clear and threat is deemed null.
- Eliminate the threat only when all other steps have been deemed exhausted or when ordered by the superior officer on post.
These are strict, unarguable rules that a soldier in a combat zone must follow if it is on their ROE card, and these expectations aren't just made up nonsense. You could be staring down a man holding an assault rifle, maybe you're looking at a jihadist hiding a bomb in their car, and you are still expected to approach these people by the guidelines on your ROE card. If you break away from your rules of engagement, you damn well better be sure you are correct because an investigation and court martial will be in your future regardless.
If we can expect men in combat to function at a higher level of restraint than law enforcement here in the states, then we can expect quite a bit more out of law enforcement as a general rule.
Should law enforcement agencies have more training, regulation, and oversight as it concerns the use of force?
Solutions to Excessive Force
Having trained, and continuing to train in the use of force my entire life, I can say with confidence that law enforcement is lacking everywhere it actually counts as it concerns the application of force tactics. Looking at the type of people in power within law enforcement, we can readily see why it is excessive force is a rampant problem. Most of these imbeciles getting the power over others, abusing it, are fat and scared for their lives every time they approach even the most frail of individuals!
We need to require law enforcement to pass a physical assessment exam each and every two years of their service, so as to ensure that they can perform under any circumstance. It is required of the military to a certain degree, and in a job where your life is on the line every single day like law enforcement officers, it should be commonplace to require the utmost attention to physical competency. When you can't even run a mile without stopping, how are you going to properly apply force?
Every good fighter knows that if you aren't in the greatest physical condition of your life, then you are going to get uncontrollably and deathly winded within the first fifteen seconds of any fight. When you get winded, you begin to fear for your life and use tactics that you otherwise would not use. If you sign up for a job where your life is on the line, you should not be excused from being able to function effectively under such circumstances.
As such, I recommend a series of bi-yearly physical tests, and training courses to ensure that law enforcement officers are able to perform their job competently. These tests and training would look a little something like this:
- Mandatory six months of physical and stress training before active duty in the field.
- Mandatory subsidized degree in the criminal justices field as provided by the city/state.
- Mandatory weekly physical training and team building exercises.
- Bi-yearly physical competency assessment to ensure peak health and physical ability such as running the mile in under twenty minutes, minimum ten pull ups, minimum one-hundred sit ups in five minutes, and a stress testing obstacle course to be completed as a team.
- Mandatory increase in internal and external oversight and regulation to ensure that all training and implementation is up-to-date and effective.
All this suggested here is less than what is expected from similar lines of duty, including your basic hands-on private security officers. There is zero justification for the egregious lack of oversight and training as it concerns law enforcement. Law enforcement, as a matter of fact and principal, should be held to a higher standard than any other armed and dangerous entity.
Don't be the scum that supports and remains a part of the garbage we call law enforcement; be the example that stands out from the crowd of fat-bodies and abuse. Get disciplined and motivated so we can stop having repeats of police brutality, and finally end the injustice we all suffer from.