A Necessary Conversation On Use of Force


If you have been following this blog for any period of time you know that I not only advocate conversation and dialogue between police and those whom they serve, but also between police themselves.

In my recent post, “Whatever Happened to the Police Baton?” I advocated for the development of tactics and methods to control mentally ill persons with sharp or blunt weapons (NOT firearms).

I elicited the following comment from a person who is obviously a senior officer with training experience. To me, he captures the argument that is causing the tension between police and community members with regard to use of force.

I replied to his comment and reposted it below because it captures what I feel about the problem and the distance that exists between police and community members coming together with regard to this issue.


“Law enforcement no longer uses batons to fend off a knife attack, because it places the officer’s life in jeopardy needlessly and DOESN’T WORK. You should pad up and actually try it some time. I have and can assure you that you will get the crap stabbed out of you. There is a reason law enforcement training has evolved to what it is over the years. This isn’t the middle ages with cops and knife wielding suspects out having knife / stick fights in the streets.

“Basically you’re saying the police should be stabbed to death rather than be allowed to defend themselves with lethal force. Of course the goal is always to take the suspect into custody using the minimum amount of force necessary. In a perfect world every interaction with a hostile suspect would be done by multiple officers with a variety of force options available to include firearms, beanbag shotgun, Taser and just about any other tool available.

“In reality this doesn’t happen. An officer / deputy is often forced to make a decision in a split second without a soul around to assist. When alone and faced with a knife wielding suspect only an idiot or some sort of impossibly trained human weapon would choose to dance around and try to knock away a deadly weapon with a stick. It isn’t the 1960’s anymore and the training has changed accordingly.

“Another problem with your argument is training. As a defensive tactics instructor, I can tell you it is a STRUGGLE to even get the minimum amount of training every year that we do. Most agencies out there are making do with less and less and doing more and more. Nowhere is this more apparent than training. Most agencies that even have a defensive tactics program allot 8 hours of defensive tactics training a YEAR. It would be a bloodbath… On the officer’s part to try to take on a knife wielding suspect with a baton especially with the unfortunate level of training most departments provide every year.

“You also bring up how corrections can take on a suspect wielding a knife with only a mattress. This is like comparing apples and a bus. Every aspect other than the knife is different. What you are talking about is a cell entry. A corrections cell entry is done in a controlled environment with the benefits of at least FIVE officers as well as time and planning. Each officer is assigned a limb and there is plenty of time for everyone to know exactly what their job is. A mattress is also rarely used. Most agencies have gone with the high speed shock shield. The suspect is still pinned with it along with the added benefit of causing a bit of discomfort when they’re hit with the electricity. I have worked corrections and patrol and have seen inmates who eat cans of OC like Tabasco sauce, turn around and cuff right up the second they see the shield.

“While I HAVE been involved in several situations with a suspect armed with a knife, I have only been involved in one incident where we were able to bring numerous tools to bear (I shot him with the beanbag shotgun). Most situations outside corrections involve an officer either alone or without alternate tools and absolutely no time to plan in any way.

“If an officer in my agency chose to try to stick fight a suspect armed with a knife (if he survived), he would at least receive a major ass chewing and at worst possibly face disciplinary action. It is articles like this that aren’t based on anything resembling the real world or the realities of actual physical violence that is responsible for so much misinformation out there and helps fuel the anti police sentiment.

“What we should instead be focusing on is the REAL problem. There isn’t a police brutality problem… There is an IGNORANCE problem. The American people are ignorant about the realities of use of force laws as well as what their rights truly are. In the absence of real information people turn to jailhouse lawyers or imaginary Facebook experts. We should literally be teaching classes to high school kids letting them know what will happen when they escalate a situation. This is America… They have a right to disagree, but the proper place to do so is in court afterwards. Compliance will NEVER result in force being used.”



“Let me begin by thanking you for your comments. I would first like to respond to your last statement, ‘Compliance will NEVER result in force being used.’ How I wish that were the case and it was that simple. You surely know that that is not a universal police practice as we have far too many videos online which show the exact opposite.

“As a young patrol officer, I remember being instructed by senior officers that after a high-speed chase ended I needed to manage my emotions by not pummeling the suspect. Our department simply did not permit this kind of behavior. Period.

“There are ample amounts of views on YouTube demonstrating that restraint in these circumstances is not a universal practice. As you know, most departments prohibit this practice, yet culture appears to override rules. You would have to agree that it continues to be a problem.

“When we talk about compliance, what about persons who have mental illnesses, or temporary emotional breakdowns, that prevent them from complying in ways police would like? But as two defensive tactics instructors, separated by almost two generations, there must be some things about the use of force in which we can agree.

“Can we agree that we need to get serious about police training and it needs to be amped up? But what about the baton? If I am willing to accept your position that a baton is not a valid instrument to use against knife-wielders, would you agree that we need to develop some kind(s) of less-than-deadly response when suspects are non-compliant and have an edged or blunt weapon? Is this a possibility?

“Can we consider developing ‘less-than-deadly shooting’ as some European departments have done? Is this now possible given today’s police carry semi-automatic pistols with large-capacity clips?

“The point I am trying to make is that today’s police MUST develop a system to control non-compliant persons brandishing edged weapons without taking their lives. That’s what many community members are asking for today and which I strongly agree and argue for.

“I have worked on the street long enough to support police officers’ use of deadly force when suspects point firearms at them. Although you may argue that it’s not the 1960s anymore, I will tell you that there are more similarities than differences. The late 60s, with Dr. King’s assassination, and civil rights being denied to many Americans, life on the streets as a cop was no picnic.

“We had no body armor, portable radios, or semi-automatic pistols. Yet some of us quickly learned that our safety and effectiveness as police officers depended not on the threat of force, but on the quality of our relationships with others – particularly people of color. Let us not forget that that is exactly the situation you face today. It’s what I learned and why I chose to move from being a training officer into formal police leadership.

“Let me say this: Unless today’s police develop ways to control their use of deadly force when NOT confronted by suspect with a firearm, their life will not get any better; in fact, they will be less safe and less effective in their duties — that’s the REAL problem.

“I hope that you have not become hardened to today’s problems and that you strive to serve and not control and to be fair and respectful in your daily work. I wish you the best. And I ask you to try and understand where I am coming from and why I believe what I do. We may be far apart in years, but not in wanting the best for our nation’s police and those whom they serve. Be safe and be kind.”


For more information see the National Institute of Justice’s post on less-lethal technologies.