De-escalation & When to Use Force: Lessons Learned Recommendations from Civil Rights Litigation

Do not use lethal force when less intrusive methods were ineffective unless a person is displaying aggravated aggressive resistance, which leads an officer to have a reasonable belief that the person poses an imminent threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others or to prevent an escaping violent felon where officer has probable cause to believe a threat of immediate, serious physical injury to the officer or others.

Use de-escalation techniques to slow down the situation so that the subject can be guided toward a course of action that will:

  • Not necessitate the use of force;
  • Reduce the level of force necessary; or
  • Allow time for additional personnel or resources to arrive.

Only use less-lethal force options when de-escalation techniques are ineffective or inappropriate and there is a need to control a noncompliant individual who poses an immediate risk to officer safety or the safety of others.

  • Only utilize less-lethal techniques or weapons that the agency has authorized and trained

Less-lethal force should be applied to:

  • Protect the officer or others from immediate physical harm.
  • Restrain or subdue an individual who is actively resisting or evading arrest.
    • Importantly, “Active resistance” means a person’s physical actions are intended to prevent an officer from placing the subject in custody and taking control, but are not intended to harm the officer. Examples include breaking the officer’s grip and hiding to avoid detection. Verbal statements, bracing, pulling away, or tensing alone do not constitute active resistance.

Do not use deadly/lethal force when:

  • The threat is only to property.
  • Individuals are only a threat to themselves.
    • Unless they are using a deadly weapon (e.g., firearm or explosive device) which poses an imminent threat to the officer or others.

Use only the amount of force that is objectively reasonable, necessary and proportional to effectively bring an incident under control, while protecting the safety of officers and the public.

Immediately de-escalate the use of force and provide any necessary medical aid to the subject once they have been restrained and are no longer a threat.

The information provided above has come directly from the consent decree language, which can be accessed by clicking on each corresponding city’s consent decree. This information is intended to guide departments on decisions and actions to improve their Constitutional policing practices. Additional resources and information may be needed to implement these recommendations successfully. For assistance in implementing recommendations, contact the Knowledge Lab team.