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Totality of the circumstances: In the eye of the beholder


In a recent baton training class, I was amazed at the looks and lack of response I got when the group was asked if they could use a distracter technique such as a shin kick or a backhand or some other techniques against a resistive subject who was only verbally resisting. They looked at each other and no one would reply. I then asked if they could draw the baton at this stage and again no one wanted to answer.

I go on to explain that according to Florida Statutes, ANY force can be used to affect an arrest. I’ve always said that all force is necessary but is all force used reasonable? That’s the issue with use of force cases. Trying to determine if the force was reasonable.

What is meant by ‘reasonable?’ Is it simply saying that this is the way another officer or group of officers would act under the same criteria? Maybe not. I suspect — and in fact, I know firsthand — that officers in certain jurisdictions could reasonably draw their guns on traffic stops as a matter of course, while to do that in other locations would get a beef filed on you. What is reasonable in Chicago, or L.A. may not be (and often times is not) reasonable in most other places.

However, there is a way to determine reasonable that is universally accepted both outside and inside our profession. This test is based upon the four tiers of protection that all officers are required to work within. These are the United States Constitution, the State Statutes, agency policy and training. If you step outside these areas, your actions will most likely be deemed unreasonable. For example, when are you allowed to violate someone’s rights under the 4th Amendment? The answer is, “Never!” While there are exceptions to search and seizure laws, these do not allow you to violate a person’s rights under that Amendment. In fact, the law protects citizens from unreasonable search/seizure.

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