Most patrol supervisors are not out on the street trying to burn down their troops on use of force incidents. In fact, they are responsible for protecting their officers’ decisions on user of force matters. After all, those Corporals, Sergeants, and even Lieutenants on the beat are still street cops themselves. But — and this is a ‘big but’ — they are also charged with protecting the civil rights of all citizens and protecting the police agency from liability in unnecessary use of force incidents.
That is why as a supervisor, one has the difficult job of winning the loyalty and trust of his officers, while at the same time making sure that laws and policies are followed when force is used on a suspect. And because it is the ultimate responsibility of an individual officer to use proper force and none greater, the supervisor simply ensures that this is what occurred. If the force was too great, a supervisor must report that also.
If we look back on the Rodney King case, we have a prime example of what happens to a supervisor that didn’t do his job to make sure the use of force was proper and justified, and as a result, Mr. King’s rights were violated, and cops went to prison.
As a street cop for the majority of my 20-year career, I know what it’s like when your adrenaline is running like a freight train through your veins — when a suspect hasn’t been compliant and has chosen to escalate the situation. It’s human nature — or at least a cop’s nature — to want to jump on him and MAKE him compliant. But we must make him compliant with the proper use of force. Without checks and balances in the system, we would become a police state, and even our rights would be infringed upon when we are off duty.
In most use-of-force incidents, officers act appropriately, and so do their supervisors.
Unfortunately, it is that one percent of incidents that go wrong and end up on YouTube and the Local Five O’clock News. And many times the video doesn’t show the entire incident, or, quite simply, your average citizen doesn’t understand what the proper use of force is or what it looks like. Our jobs can be violent, and the majority of citizens in the community just doesn’t see or experience the violence we must deal with, making the nature of a use-of-force incident caught on tape disturbing to them.
Your supervisor wants to be in your corner on use-of-force incidents, take my word on that. And he wants to see that perp that “bowed up” to his officer get what is coming to him. But he wants what is coming to him to be legal, justified, and properly executed, so that the suspect is sitting behind bars doing the time, not his officer, or him.
Stay safe out there, don’t get hurt, and if you hurt a suspect while effecting an arrest, you’ll sleep much better at night — and your supervisor will too — knowing your use of force was justified.