As a member of your community, you play an important role in holding your local law enforcement agencies accountable to their mission. Understanding what is in your local agency’s policies and why is the first step in this process. Many community members assume the federal or state government creates policy for law enforcement agencies; in fact, agencies are left on their own to interpret legislation and case law, write policies and keep up with changing laws, regulations and court decisions. Nearly half of law enforcement agencies in the U.S. employ 10 or fewer full-time officers (Bureau of Justice Statistics, see p. 3). Policy development and maintenance is simply not something most agencies have resources to do effectively.
Lexipol helps fill the gap by developing comprehensive, state-specific policies and keeping them up to date for our customers. With more than 2,075 years of combined public safety experience, Lexipol’s policy developers and attorneys employ a rigorous yet collaborative policy development and review process. We ensure diverse perspectives—internal and external to our company—are considered, and that our policies reflect a primary focus on preservation of life. Finally, recognizing that each agency must own its policy, we encourage our customers to thoroughly review and customize our policies as needed to account for community needs and agency-specific factors.
Expand the policy areas below to obtain more information about Lexipol’s policy positions.
Lexipol’s policy limits the carotid control hold to instances of deadly force. Lexipol also supplies alternative policy content for customers in jurisdictions where the technique is prohibited by the agency, or prohibited or criminalized under state law, or where the agency lacks the resources to train individual officers in this technique. Note: The term carotid control hold is sometimes used interchangeably with the term “chokehold.” This is incorrect, and respiratory restraints have never been a recognized control technique in Lexipol policy.
Exhausting All Alternatives before Deadly Force
A common push in police reform efforts is to require officers to exhaust all alternatives before resorting to deadly force. It is not uncommon to hear the question, “Why couldn’t you have just shot the (knife/crowbar/gun, etc.) out of his hand or shot him in the leg? Why did you have to kill him?” While this may initially sound sensible, in practice it is an unrealistic expectation that fails to account for the split-second decisions officers may have to make during rapidly evolving situations. There is no general law that every alternative must be exhausted before using deadly force. Instead, courts require the force used by an officer to be “objectively reasonable” given the totality of the circumstances known to the officer in the presenting situation. This does not mean, however, that officers shouldn’t consider other alternatives before using deadly force when they can—they should, and Lexipol policy supports doing so. Lexipol policies make it clear that officers may only use reasonable force, and, in a number of situations, recommend or prescribe actions and alternatives that make it less likely an officer will need to use deadly force.
Duty to Intervene
Law enforcement officers throughout the U.S. are entrusted with making ethical decisions every day. In some instances, the ethical decision involves whether to intervene during a colleague’s use of force. This decision requires moral and ethical courage, something that policy can influence only to a certain degree. Yet, clear policy establishes the expectations, defines the conditions, and describes the responsibilities. Lexipol’s Use of Force Policy has included a duty to intercede provision for years. The section focuses on two essential elements—stopping unreasonable force from happening and reporting it afterwards, even if the second officer was not able to intervene. Lexipol policy supports interceding and reporting excessive force while also accounting for the reality that multiple officers responding to situations at different times will have varying degrees of information about the ongoing situation.
Use of Force Continuum
A use of force continuum is a chart or checklist that correlates specific tools and tactics to specific forms of resistance. For example, if, in the continuum, a suspect’s resistance is identified as “passive resistance or verbal refusal,” the use of force continuum might identify acceptable force responses as “verbal commands, control holds, and/or pain compliance techniques.” Several police reform groups advocate for law enforcement agencies to adopt a use of force continuum as a means of addressing concerns of excessive force and to reduce the types of force used by law enforcement professionals. Proponents of a use of force continuum assert it “restricts the most severe types of force to the most extreme situations and creates clear policy restrictions on the use of each police weapon and tactic.”
As numerous legal and police professionals have noted, however, use of force continuums are difficult to apply because they cannot encompass all the variables present in use of force incidents, which are often unpredictable and dynamic. The inconsistencies and discrepancies within continuum models (one report highlighted more than 50 variations) also create risks by mandating that officers use a level of force that may be far greater or far less than what is reasonable in a given situation. Further, use of force continuums fail to take into account, as the Supreme Court has noted, that the use of force occurs in “tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving” situations. Neither case law nor state legislation requires the adoption of use of force continuums within policy. Accordingly, Lexipol’s Use of Force Policy does not include a continuum, instead following precedent set by the Supreme Court in Graham v. Connor that force must be “objectively reasonable.”
Use of Force Trend Analysis
Law enforcement uses of force are routinely analyzed at the incident level. But evaluation of trends in use of force within an agency is also important. Such analysis is critical to ensure transparency, accountability, and, when necessary, remediation through training or other actions. It is up to individual law enforcement agencies to enshrine collection and analysis expectations in policy. Lexipol provides agencies with guidance to do just that. Lexipol’s Use of Force Policy directs the division commander to prepare an annual analysis on use of force incidents. Several related policies also outline data collection and analysis requirements. The stated goal is to determine whether various uses of force were proper and effective and whether improvements could be made. This policy guidance supports agency efforts to understand use of force trends and improve the law enforcement profession.
Providing Medical Aid
For more than a decade, Lexipol’s policies, training, and publications have educated and guided law enforcement officers to promptly render medical aid following uses of force when it is safe to do so. Our Use of Force Policy requires members to secure medical assistance for anyone who “exhibits signs of physical distress, has sustained visible injury, expresses a complaint of injury or continuing pain, or was rendered unconscious.” Members are expected to continuously monitor any person who exhibits signs of physical distress after an encounter with law enforcement until the person can be medically assessed. As part of our commitment to continuous improvement, the policy now cautions officers not to place subjects on their stomach for an extended period, as this could impair their ability to breathe.
Additional policies, including the Medical Aid and Response Policy, Handcuffing and Restraints Policy, Control Devices Policy, and Conducted Energy Device Policy, provide additional medical aid guidelines for specific types of incidents. Through these policies and related training content, Lexipol urges law enforcement officers to err on the side of caution when it comes to providing medical aid in the use of force context. As Lexipol co-founder Gordon Graham states, providing medical care “shouldn’t be a tough call” and is “the right thing to do.”
Police Service Dogs
Although service dogs have been utilized by the military and across Europe for centuries, their value to modern police work in the United States was not recognized until the mid-1950s. Their ultra-sensitive hearing, eyesight and sense of smell dramatically increases the ability of officers to quickly and safely locate missing persons, evidence, contraband, and concealed or fleeing suspects. It is also well established that the mere presence of a police dog will serve as a substantial deterrent to suspects contemplating escape or resistance.
Police dogs do not frequently apprehend suspects by biting. In situations where a bite does occur, it often is the result of the suspect disregarding clear warnings to voluntarily surrender. Even in circumstances resulting in a bite, police canine handlers are highly trained to quickly discontinue the bite once the suspect has been safely apprehended.
Some police reform groups have suggested police dogs should be limited in use to “find and bark” rather than “find and bite.” However, studies have shown such training is not only impractical and unsafe, but often results in more bites when canines are deployed in real-world situations.
De-escalation is a prominent topic in conversations around police policy and tactics. It is important to note that de-escalation is not possible in every incident; some individuals are unable or unwilling to appropriately respond to de-escalation tactics. While there is no federal legal requirement for officers to use de-escalation tactics, the use of non-violent techniques and strategies to reduce the need for force is encouraged when it is possible and safe to do so.
De-escalation is included in Lexipol policies addressing civil commitments, crisis intervention incidents, conducted energy device deployments (e.g., TASER®) and civil disputes. In addition, Lexipol’s Use of Force Policy requires officers to consider and use de-escalation tactics when time and circumstances permit. These tactics include crisis intervention techniques, requesting appropriate backup, and verbal persuasion to reduce the intensity of the situation.
Warning Before Deadly Force
Some police reform groups recommend requiring officers to give a verbal warning in every instance where deadly force might be used. There is no legal precedent for this position. Instead, the Supreme Court only requires a warning before the use of deadly force to stop a fleeing felon, and then only when the warning is feasible. There are also practical reasons not to require warnings in every incident: We can imagine a use of force scenario where a verbal warning would not be reasonable (e.g., hostage situation). Accordingly, best practice is to require officers to provide verbal warnings in deadly force situations whenever it is feasible and safe to do so. Lexipol policy reflects this position. Ultimately, training is vital to lower the likelihood of death or serious injury to officers, suspects, and other citizens in any encounter.
Shooting at Moving Vehicles
Shooting at moving vehicles, whether in an attempt to disable the vehicle or neutralize the driver, is often ineffective and dangerous. It typically does not stop the vehicle, fails to mitigate the threat to the officer, jeopardizes uninvolved people, and injures or kills occupants. Recently, police reformers have initiated a movement to ban police from shooting at moving vehicles. As with many position statements, this view at first sounds sensible. But it does not take long to expose the deficiencies of such a position. There have been numerous incidents where vehicles were used as weapons in attacks on crowds. A complete ban on shooting at moving vehicles would prevent officers from intervening to save lives in such situations. Accordingly, Lexipol policy acknowledges the ineffectiveness and dangers of shooting at moving vehicles without prescribing a complete ban. Our policy says, “Officers should move out of the path of an approaching vehicle instead of discharging their firearm at the vehicle or any of its occupants. An officer should only discharge a firearm at a moving vehicle or its occupants when the officer reasonably believes there are no other reasonable means available to avert the threat of the vehicle, or if deadly force other than the vehicle is directed at the officer or others. Officers should not shoot at any part of a vehicle in an attempt to disable the vehicle.”
Transparency and accountability are critical to ethical policing. Without these two factors, the public rightfully becomes mistrustful of and cynical toward the law enforcement profession. Comprehensive reporting of police use of force, including threats to use force, is a key component of transparency and accountability, which is why police reform advocates have made reporting a focus of their efforts. Lexipol policy requires officers to completely and accurately document the circumstances that surround all uses of force. In addition, Lexipol policy includes requirements to document even the threat of certain intermediate force options (e.g., TASER use), the circumstances why warnings were not given, and pointing of a firearm. These policies remain consistent with best practices and allow agencies, courts, and communities to analyze the reasonableness of officer threat assessments and responses. Agencies that adopt Lexipol’s reporting policies have the data necessary to track uses of force, identify force and resistance trends, monitor individual officer trends, develop responsive training programs, adjust deployment strategies in response to data, and share data with their community in an effort to remain transparent.
The Role of Supervisors
The role of the law enforcement supervisor is to provide leadership to officers and effectively manage all types of incidents. With regard to uses of force, a supervisor’s responsibilities range from on-scene management to post-incident investigation and evaluation. For more than a decade, Lexipol’s best practice has been to delineate specific responsibilities to supervisors in policy and reinforce the importance of involving supervisors in responding to, investigating, and reporting certain uses of force for additional review.
To that end, Lexipol's Use of Force Policy lists specific types of incidents that require an officer to notify a supervisor (e.g., an individual was struck or kicked) and outlines numerous responsibilities for supervisors upon notification of a use of force. At least five related policies highlight additional responsibilities for supervisors responding to uses of force. This clear and effective policy guidance regarding the role of supervisors helps ensure incidents where force is used are effectively managed, properly investigated and accurately documented.
Performance History Audits
Police reformers and law enforcement professionals agree on the need to identify potentially problematic behavior patterns and address them promptly to reduce the chances of unlawful or dangerous behavior on the part of the officer. Performance history audits (also known as early warning systems) provide an important tool for law enforcement agencies to compile and analyze patterns of behavior in an officer’s conduct. Lexipol has long embraced the use of performance history audits to flag potential training issues and other behavior before the officer’s on-the-job conduct becomes a problem. Our Performance History Audits Policy identifies specific data (performance indicators) that should be considered in the performance history audit. This data includes use of force incidents, personnel complaints, canine bite incidents, prior vehicle collisions, and claims and civil suits against the officer. The policy provides for quarterly audits of every officer and defines levels of remediation, potential disciplinary action, and follow-up monitoring.
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For links to articles, webinars and videos on these topics, please visit the Additional Resources page.