In a previous article, I presented the acronym TRACED as a tool to assist in the articulation and documentation of any use of force. As a reminder, TRACED stands for Threat, Resistance, Active, Crime, Escape/Evasion, and Damage. Threat refers to the level of danger presented by the suspect and the environment. Resistance refers to whether the suspect is presenting passive, active, assaultive, or a deadly level of resistance.
Remember, deadly force is that force that presents a substantial risk of death or great bodily injury. The term active serves as a reminder to describe whether the situation is “tense and rapidly evolving,” or if it is more static in nature thus providing time to deliberate between force options. The crime, while self-explanatory, is important as courts consider whether a felony or misdemeanor has been committed, and if the crime is one of violence. Escape is one of the primary components of force evaluation as delineated by the landmark Graham v. Connor case. Finally, at least in the 9th circuit, before deploying a TASER in dart mode officers should, when possible, consider secondary injuries to the suspect.
In this article, we will discuss a means of describing the threat posed by an individual using an acronym borrowed and adapted from the health care community for evaluation of psychiatric patients. This acronym is MAPS For law enforcement purposes, MAPS defines a subject’s threat potential as Mental state, Appearance, Physical actions, and Speech.
Just a few of the mental states of those with whom we become involved in force encounters include anger, depression, fear, disorientation or confusion, subjects may be defensive, argumentative or evasive, paranoid, or delusional. As in all force documentation, it is important to go beyond a simple characterization of an individual’s demeanor. While most of us understand what it means when we describe an individual as agitated or about to lose control, remember that we are going to be grilled by an opposing attorney in court as to specifics.
If these specifics are not in the police report and we testify exclusively from memory, our credibility may be called into question. We will use the other sections of the MAPS model to assist in an accurate portrayal of the subject.
Appearance is a detailed suspect description that assists in depicting the threat and justifying the use of force. What is the suspect’s height and weight, and how does that compare to the officer? If the suspect is muscular be sure to document that fact. Does the subject have any prison or other tattoos associated with gang, supremacist, or separatist groups? Does he have the tell-tale “cauliflower” ears of an experienced grappler? What is the ratio of subjects to officers? Describe the suspect’s clothing and its potential to conceal weapons. Include weapons or items in his possession that could be used as weapons such as bags, books, pens, umbrellas, bottles, cans, newspapers, or magazines, and matches or cigarettes. Homeless individuals often wear multiple layers of clothing and carry makeshift weapons to protect themselves against street robberies.
Appearance includes sympathetic nervous system responses such as profuse sweating, or perhaps the suspect had a red and flushed face. Looking closely we may see the suspect’s veins bulging, and perhaps we can actually see a pulse in his forehead or neck. Describe the suspect’s eyes. Are they dilated or constricted? Is he looking around rapidly, or perhaps “target glancing” towards the tools on your belt? Does he have that “1000 yard” stare? Are his eyebrows up (fright) or down (anger)? Pay attention to his blink rate. Generally, the more anxious an individual is, the more he blinks. How about the jaw? Is he clenching his teeth? If his chin is raised above a normal position he may be challenging you. If it is lowered, he may be about to attack. Pay close attention to the muscles around the mouth. How about the throat? He may be swallowing excessively or stretching his neck. Finally, yawning can be a signal of anxiety and anticipation (see Apollo Ono before a speed skating event.)
While there is no prescribed linear method of describing the actions of a suspect, a simple way to think about this for documentation purposes is to start at one end of the body and move towards the other (of course, you could also start with what you saw first- just remember to include everything you perceived.)
A suspect rolling his shoulders or stretching in some manner is a serious danger. He may be warming up to attack or run, and he might also be trying to look nonchalant in order to get the officer to drop his guard. We obviously need to monitor the suspect’s hands. Does he continually put them in his pockets even after told to keep them in view? Is he touching some part of his clothing as if to check a weapon? It is rare — but not unheard of — for a suspect to test an officer by putting his hands on the officer. An obvious giveaway is the clenching of the fists, but also watch for a suspect who excessively rubs or scratches his head, face, or arms.
Describe the gross actions the suspect is taking with his feet and legs. He may bend over and reach towards his feet stretching out his hamstrings. Likewise, he may grab a foot pulling it up towards his butt stretching out his quadriceps. People who are nervous have a very difficult time standing still, so a suspect preparing to attack or run might be moving excessively. If the suspect continues to try to close the distance between the officer and himself, he may be trying to better hear or be polite, but his action must be stopped immediately since he might be setting up an attack. A suspect who squares off and puffs out his chest is demonstrating his contempt of an officer’s authority, but an offender who blades his stance (especially if he raises his hands to chin level) is a certain danger consideration. Watch for the offender who looks at an area of his body and then turns that part away from the officer. He is trying to conceal something.
Extremely rapid or very slow speech may indicate controlled substance influence. While mentally disturbed individuals may not be legally capable of forming intent to do harm to an officer, those who are paranoid or delusional have the capacity to injure or kill us. Any language that indicates a subject’s loss of reality needs to be documented. Actively listen to what he is saying, pay attention, and take it seriously. Document if an offender is slurring his words, speaking loudly or quietly, stuttering, has a “cracking” or high-pitched voice. Since a suspect (like everyone) can only pay attention to one thing at a time, if he is repeating what the officer is saying to him it may indicate that his mind is busy with thoughts of attack or escape. Put an end to this mimicking immediately.
Indirect threats such as, “I’m not going back to jail” can usually be easily qualified. I have had great luck with simply asking the suspect if he intends to fight. I simply say something like, “I’m going to come over there and put handcuffs on you.” I then ask, “Are we going to be in a fight? If so, just tell me now.” While no guarantee, I have found that this “Psy-Ops” communication method (I am confident of my abilities, and you will lose if you resist) has so far circumvented any resistance.
Of course, if the suspect affirms that he is going to resist or makes a direct threat such as, “I’ll kick your ass,” or “You’re not taking me in,” such statements bolster your use of force.
This is by no means a conclusive list of pre-assault cues and behaviors. The acronyms TRACED and MAPS are provided as a means to assist officers in observing and assessing danger cues, articulating the suspect’s means, opportunity, and intent, and then justifying and documenting the officer’s force responses. Remember to include environmental concerns when recording your use of force such as the distances between officers and subjects, the suspect’s proximity to weapons, cover and barricades or the lack thereof, whether the subject is in or about or has quick access to a vehicle, footing or trip hazards, lighting, and cohorts of the suspect or civilians in the area. A comprehensive report will take time but is well worth the effort and energy to fully protect you from any criminal, civil, or administrative charges.