Explaining the rapid escalation of force

Officers often find that it was much easier winning the actual "battle" on the street than winning the "war" in court. We need to remember that it is not enough to do the right thing. An officer has to be able to explain why his/her use of force was the right thing to do. To this we often have to "educate" the jury to the realities of the use of force. To do this, an officer needs to be able to "articulate", i.e. explain why their actions were "reasonable."

A great tool for this purpose is to understand what are referred to as "Special Circumstances" in an officer's Threat Assessment Opportunities. These refer to an open-ended list of reasons for what is often referred to as "skipping steps" or "rapid escalation" through an officer force options. In short, things are getting crazy and the normal step-by-step escalation of force isn't going to suffice. Officer Safety requires rapid escalation to top force options.

Here is a partial listing:

1. Your reasonable perception of threat.

Example: A subject is supposed to be armed, is acting suspiciously, has a bulge under his shirt at the waist, and refuses to keep his hands up over his head. It would be a good idea to quickly draw your weapon.

2. Sudden assault.

Example: A subject without warning throws a punch at your face. This is not the time for trying to talk him down. It is time to avoid the punch and to escalate quickly to appropriate empty hand technique, intermediate weapon, or beyond.

3. Your physical positioning.

Example: A subject is fighting with you on the top of a staircase. You need to end the fight now - any way you can before you end up getting thrown down the stairs.

4. Subject's ability to escalate force rapidly.

Example: You are dealing with a domestic disturbance in a home. The husband turns and starts towards his glass encased gun cabinet to get to a firearm. You need to stop him from getting to his guns.

5. Your special knowledge about the subject.

Example: You are dealing with a large, very strong, extremely violent subject who you know has a history of violent confrontations with the police. The subject is starting to lose it again. It is time to escalate quickly to control him before he can attack you.

6. Your injury or exhaustion.

Example: You have injured you knee and fallen to the ground during a physical confrontation with a subject. Instead of running away, the subject turns back towards you, and moves in for the kill. It's time to end the fight.

7. Other special circumstances.

Example: This isn't a complete list. It grows with time as officers experience other "Special Circumstances" that justify the rapid escalation of force.

About the author

Experience, expertise and communication skills are the criteria by which a defensive tactics instructor is judged. By these measures, Gary T. Klugiewicz is recognized as one of the nation's leading control systems analysts specializing in the Use of Force. Gary is the training director for Vistelar a global consulting & training firm that addresses the entire spectrum of human conflict. He retired from the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Department in 2001 after 25 years of service, during which he rose to the rank of captain. He spent more than 30 years as a line officer, supervisor and a control systems designer. Contact Gary Klugiewicz

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