There has been a lot of misinformation floating around regarding the use of TASER devices and most recently pepper spray (OC or Oleoresin Capsicum). From the “don’t tase me bro” incident at the University of Florida in 2007 to the most recent use of pepper spray at the University of California, Davis protest in November, the general public has received a lot of misinformation about police tactics and the use of force.
Let us start with a basic overview of the general use of force progression in use in most police agencies around the country today. In general, the use of force policy spells out the steps in the use of force and defines a hierarchy of use, without requiring that every step be used. The use of force policy in its generic form looks something like this;
1. Verbal commands (constructive authority)
2. Physical manipulation (physical contact and physical force)
3. Chemical or electronic weapons (mechanical force)
4. Impact weapons (mechanical force)
5. Deadly force
It is not required that an officer go through each step and may escalate over steps as the situation warrants. For example, if a suspect is charging at the officer or another person with a knife, it is not necessary that the officer use physical or electronic force stop them. In this case the immediate use of deadly force may be justified.
It is easy to Monday morning quarterback a police officer’s use of force, but unless all aspects of the situation are analyzed, it is impossible for those that were not involved to make a judgment based on limited information.
In today’s society many believe that what they see on video tells the whole story and most times it does not. Rarely are video cameras rolling at the beginning of an incident and generally pick up after an incident has escalated. What do you see on the news or on YouTube? Generally, the last few, escalated, moments of a situation that has much more to the story. Take a look at the UC Davis incident for example, did you see video on the news that showed the protestors blocking officers from leaving, protestors being verbally aggressive and being told numerous times to clear the path or they would be subject to pepper spray? No. What was portrayed were “peaceful” protestors being “attacked” by out of control cops, which in the end was simply not true.
It is important that the public realize that there is a lot of training that is put into the use of force and the facts that lead up to the use of force are not always as clear as the video tape they may be viewing. In the vast majority of use of force cases the officers were not only clearly justified, but many times had exercised extreme restraint in attempting to resolve the situation prior to it escalating to the point that citizens thought they could make a buck by videotaping the aftermath.