Tactics & Weapons: Lessons Learned Recommendations from Civil Rights Litigation

Less-lethal force is defined as, any use of force other than that which is considered deadly force that involves physical effort to control, restrain, or overcome the resistance of another. Less-lethal force has the potential to result in death or serious injury of a subject under certain circumstances. Less-lethal force options:

  • Include manual restraint, electronic control weapons, pepper aerosol spray, and impact projectiles.
  • Do not include verbal commands or other non-physical de-escalation techniques.

Do not fire warning shots (discharge of a firearm for the purpose of compelling compliance, not intended to cause physical injury).

Do not discharge firearms at a moving vehicle.

Do not discharge firearms from a moving vehicle.

Only use choke holds and vascular neck restraint maneuvers when deadly force is authorized, and no reasonable force alternative exists within agency policy.

  • A Chokehold or Neck hold is any hold or contact that (a) runs a reasonable risk of inhibiting breathing by compression of the airway in the neck, (b) runs a reasonable risk of inhibiting blood flow by compression of the blood vessels in the neck, and/or (c) exerts more than momentary, incidental pressure to the back or side of the neck. (See Use of Force | Baltimore Police Department)

Develop policy guidance on the circumstances under which it is appropriate to exhibit a firearm.

  • Generally, officers are prohibited from exhibiting or pointing a firearm unless the officer reasonably believes that lethal force may become necessary.

Oleoresin capsicum spray (OC Spray) can be used for crowd dispersal when individuals within those crowds are committing acts that endanger officers and others and participants refuse to obey lawful orders to disperse.

Direct OC spray at the individual(s) in a crowd who presents a threat.

Train officers on the use of OC spray before they are certified to carry and/or use it.

  • Include protocols regarding officers’ responsibilities following OC spray use.

Render aid and arrange immediate transport to a hospital for medical treatment for subjects on whom OC spray has been used if deemed necessary.

Use CEWs only when grounds for arrest or detention are present.

  • And such force is necessary to protect the officer, subject, or others from immediate physical harm.

Do not employ more than three cycles or 15 total seconds of CEWs against a subject.

  • Each use of the CEW must be considered a separate use of force and separately justified.

Do not use CEWs in drive-stun mode as a pain compliance technique. Specifically, do not apply drive stun mode to a subject’s head, neck, chest or groin.

Except where lethal force is the only other option, do not use CEWs when:

  • It is evident that it could cause serious physical injury;
  • The subject is at risk of falling from a significant height;
  • The subject is in control of a vehicle in motion;
  • The subject has been exposed to MK-9 pepper fogger or other flammable material;
  • When the officer knows that the subject is pregnant;
  • If the subject is elderly;
  • If the subject is a small child; and/or
  • If the subject is visibly frail or has low body mass.

Do not use CEWs on fleeing persons who do not pose an imminent threat of physical harm to the officer or others. Fleeing is not sufficient justification for applying a CEW on a subject.

Obtain appropriate medical treatment for suspects after a CEW deployment.

Do not use improvised weapons (e.g., flashlight or firearm) to strike a subject.

  • Unless reasonable and necessary to defend against a person displaying Active or Aggravated Aggression and the officer is unable to use an approved weapon.

Do not use force on subjects that are handcuffed and under control or otherwise restrained, unless the person is aggressively, physically resisting, and lesser means, including de-escalation, would be ineffective or have already failed.

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.