When should we use less lethal force?
Watching many of the videos on social media, the ones supplied by police worn body cameras, involving uses of lethal force that begin with a use of less lethal force, I have concluded the following: We use less lethal force too late. And as a profession, we place it too close to lethal force.
Less lethal force in that force which is less likely to cause serious bodily injury or death. As with any force, there is a potential for injury. We must first ask ourselves why we are using less lethal force in a situation. We are using it to gain compliance. And it is way to gain compliance over a noncompliant person that can reduce the injury to officers, as well as the suspect. It is not intended to punish or intentionally hurt the person.
Our second consideration is when we should use it. We should use it before the suspect enters fight of flight mode. Once they are in a nonreasoning, irrational state, they are less susceptible to LL force’s main motivator; pain. The time to use a taser, pepper spray, impact munitions, etc. is while the person is still considering if they should attack or run. At this point they are still reasoning and weighing options. If we can use our motivational tools at the time, we will be much more effective in convincing them to comply with our commands. Also, if we delay too long, the assault or attack by the suspect will of course be repelled or stopped by lethal force.
We also should avoid repetitive commands, saying the same thing over and over and over. I have seen officers tell a suspect to drop a weapon (knife) or to not raise a gun (they were unarmed) over a dozen times before using either LL or lethal force. How many times do we need to tell a suspect armed with a weapon to drop it before we realize they are not going to just drop it. It is almost as if officers are reluctant or scared to use LL force.
Which brings me to me third consideration. I have been told by officers that officers in their agency are hesitant to use less lethal force because of the grilling and second guessing they get from their supervisor and administrators afterward. While I believe we should debrief all use of force incidents and investigate them thoroughly, police administrators should watch that they are not making officers “Taser shy”. Less lethal options were developed to operate in a wide area between officer presence and lethal force. We must understand how wide that area may be.
Less lethal options are a wonderful and valuable segment in the use of force for law enforcement to be maximally effective in preforming their duties, especially in gaining compliance over resistive subjects. Officers should be encouraged to use less lethal options earlier and more often. If they are confident in their use, they will be more effective in the application, the results will be better, and more subjects will receive less injury or even death.