Supervision, Accountability, and Policy: Lessons Learned Recommendations from Civil Rights Litigation

Deadly/lethal force is defined as, any use of force that creates a substantial risk of causing death or serious bodily injury.

Develop and implement use of force policies that comply with the rights secured and protected by the Constitution and state and federal law.

  • Include review mechanisms that will promptly identify and respond to any unreasonable uses of force.
  • When revising existing policies or crafting new ones, allow for a public comment period to provide both officers and the community a voice in the process.

Develop policies and procedures that comply with applicable law and are reflective of generally accepted policing practices regarding impartial policing, including considerations for youth, individuals with intellectual disabilities, and individuals in crisis.

The foremost policy of a law enforcement agency should be to value and preserve human life.

Provide officers with clear and concise policies that establish well-defined guidelines on use of force.

The Use of Force policies should include all use of force techniques, technologies, and weapons that are available to officers.

  • Clearly define and describe each force option and the circumstances under which each is appropriate and consistent with potential types of resistance.

The use of force policies should require that officers:

  • Resolve incidents without force when possible.
  • Employ de-escalation techniques to minimize the need to use force.
  • Continually assess the situation and changing circumstances and modulate the use of force appropriately.
  • Use force in a manner that avoids unnecessary injury or risk of injury to officers and civilians.
  • Recognize and act upon the duty to intervene to stop an officer from using excessive force.
  • Accurately and completely report all reportable force used or observed.

The policies should also include requirements that

  • All use of force incidents are reviewed by supervisors to include the officer’s written report, video footage, etc.
  • Hold officers accountable for use of force that is not objectively reasonable or otherwise violates the law.

Forbid the following in use of force polices (unless deadly force is authorized):

  • Neck restraints/choke holds;
  • Head strikes with a hard object;
  • The use of force beyond unresisted handcuffing or physical removal to overcome passive resistance;
  • Any force against a person in handcuffs, expect to prevent imminent bodily harm to an officer or another person;
  • Retaliatory force by officers; and
  • Using force to effect compliance with a knowingly unlawful command.

Train officers on their agency’s use of force policy and accompanying legal updates on at least an annual basis.

Train officers regularly on de-escalation techniques and the importance of de-escalation.

Provide training designed to enhance officers’ discretion and judgement in using force.

Only allow officers who have completed annual training on conducted electrical weapons (CEWs) to be issued and allowed to carry and use CEWs.

Train and certify officers for agency-approved batons and other impact weapons before allowing officers to carry and use these weapons.

Deploy simulation-based firearms training using foreseeable situations and circumstances in the community setting.

  • Include night or low light, moving targets, primary or secondary hand firing, and combat shooting simulations.
  • Utilize best practices in adult learning, scenario-based training, and problem-solving practices.

Create a system for supervisors to monitor allegations of bias-based policing, including:

  • Assessing and monitoring the performance of officers’ behaviors and patterns of behaviors and intercede when appropriate.
  • Forwarding all suspected acts of bias-based policing or discriminatory practices of an officer to Internal Affairs.
  • Investigating all complaints of discriminatory behaviors against an officer by Internal Affairs.

Create a policy for reporting use of force incidents to include:

  • Requiring officers to immediately notify their immediate, on-duty supervisor following any use of force, prisoner injury, or allegation of any use of force.
  • Requiring personnel who have knowledge of a use of force by another officer to immediately report the incident to an on-duty supervisor.
  • Requiring all officers to provide a written or recorded use of force narrative of the facts leading to the use of force to the supervisor conducting the investigation.
  • Failure to report use of force by an officer shall result in disciplinary action against the officer(s).

The lowest level of reportable force should include:

  • Force that only causes momentary pain or disorientation during application as a means of gaining compliance but is not reasonably expected to cause injury (hand control, pressure points, etc.);
  • Pointing a firearm or CEW at a subject;
  • “Cycling” a CEW as a form of warning; and
  • Forcible takedowns that do not result in injury or complaint of injury.

The middle level of reportable force should include:

  • Force that causes or could cause an injury greater than momentary pain but does not rise to the highest level of reportable force;
  • Discharge of a CEW aimed at a subject that is not the lowest or highest level of reportable force, including firing at a subject and missing;
  • Use of OC spray or other chemical weapons;
  • Weaponless defense techniques (elbow or closed-fist strikes, kicks);
  • Discharge of a less-lethal launcher/munition;
  • Canine-inflicted injury, except those that would constitute the highest level of reportable force;
  • Any strike, other than a strike with an impact weapon to the head, neck, sternum, spine, groin, or kidney area; and
  • Striking of a vehicle or subject with a vehicle that does not rise to the highest level of reportable force.

The highest level of reportable force should include:

  • Chokeholds/Neck restraints
  • Strikes to the head, neck, sternum, spine, groin, or kidney area with an impact weapon;
  • Intentionally striking a person’s head against a hard, fixed object such as a roadway, concrete floor, wall, or iron bars;
  • Knee strikes or kicks to a person’s head or neck;
  • Any strikes to a person’s throat;
  • “Knee drops” against a prone or supine person’s head, neck, or torso;
  • Firearm discharges, including unintentional discharges;
  • Applications of more than three CEW cycles on an individual during a single encounter;
  • CEW application for longer than 15 seconds;
  • Uses of force resulting in death, serious physical injury, loss of consciousness, or requiring hospitalization;
  • Uses of lethal force; and
  • Lower level force options being applied in a manner that makes it likely that death or serious physical injury will occur.
  • The use of any force on a person whose health, age, condition, or circumstances make it likely death or Serious Physical Injury will result

Require the following for every use of reportable force:

  • Report instances of reportable force to supervisors.
  • Require supervisors respond to the scene of all middle and high levels of reportable use of force.
  • Conduct an immediate review by supervisors, including a critical examination of the incident.
  • Review of the lowest level of reportable uses of force by an uninvolved permanent-rank supervisor of the same rank or above the involved officer.
  • Review of the middle level of reportable uses of force by an uninvolved permanent-rank supervisor above the rank of the involved officer.
  • Investigation of the highest level of reportable uses of force by a special investigations response team (SIRT) modeled after the Baltimore Police Department’s SIRT.
  • Regular review by the a group modeled after the Baltimore Police Department’s Performance Review Board (PRB). The PRB reviews any training, tactics, equipment, or supervision concerns that may arise from reportable uses of force and provides an opportunity to identify and rectify systemic challenges that may contribute to future problems.

Review reportable force incidents for whether the use of force was reasonable, whether it violated any policy, and to identify any training, tactics, equipment, or supervision concerns.

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.