The authority to use force to effect an arrest or to preserve public safety is a defining characteristic of police officers and sets them apart from other agents of the government. It is an extraordinary power, sometimes amounting to the power of life or death over members of the public. Properly applied, it can be an essential intervention protecting the public, officers, and offenders alike, at times preserving life. Misused or abused, it can do deep and lasting damage to police legitimacy. Permissible police use of force is governed by multiple levels of law and policy, including the U.S. Constitution, Supreme Court rulings, state and municipal legislation, and agency policy.
The information provided within these modules has been gathered from various sources, including consent decrees, research, and practitioner and department-developed resources. These webpage modules are intended to be a guide for departments to use to improve their Constitutional policing practices. Additional information and resources may be needed to implement the recommendations successfully. This resource is intended to be dynamic, and the Knowledge Lab will continue to update and add to these modules to provide additional and current guidance for departments.