As a law enforcement professional, you understand the importance for policy to provide meaningful guidance while also leaving room for officer discretion. Police work is dynamic; it is simply impossible for policy to account for all the incidents officers respond to. At Lexipol, we believe that for law enforcement policy to be effective, it must be applicable, practicable and functional, while having a primary focus on the preservation of life.
With more than 2,075 years of combined public safety experience, Lexipol’s policy developers and attorneys carefully craft policy to include state and federal legislation and case law, but also to reflect the realities of the policing profession. This is not always an easy process; policy is rarely black and white. We employ a rigorous yet collaborative development and review process to ensure diverse perspectives—internal and external to our company—are considered. 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. Note: A document summarizing our use of force policy positions is available for download.
Medical evidence supports the carotid control hold as safer compared to other control techniques or the use of impact weapons, and research does not support categorizing a properly applied vascular neck restraint as lethal force. However, there is considerable confusion among the public between respiratory and vascular restraints and in several jurisdictions, one or both techniques have been either entirely prohibited, criminalized, or limited to when deadly force is authorized. Accordingly, Lexipol’s best practice policy has been recently amended to clearly define the carotid control hold and to limit the technique to instances where deadly force is authorized. The section is removed from states where the technique is criminalized. (The manual mandates officers to follow the law and therefore does not specifically delineate crimes in policies.) Finally, Lexipol also guides agencies to customize content if the technique is prohibited by the agency or where the agency lacks the resources to train individual officers in this technique.
Exhausting All Alternatives before Deadly Force
A common concept in police reform efforts is the need to require officers to exhaust all alternatives before resorting to deadly force. In practice, this is an unrealistic expectation that fails to account for the split-second decisions officers may have to make and rapidly evolving incidents. There is no general law that every alternative must be exhausted before using deadly force. Instead, courts have settled on the finding by the Supreme Court in Graham v Connor (1989)—that the force used by an officer should be “objectively reasonable” given the totality of the circumstances known to the officer. Lexipol applies the same Graham reasonableness standard to all uses of force, including deadly force. 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
Police 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. Police reformers have called for agencies to adopt duty to intervene policies as a way to reduce excessive force.
Lexipol has long included duty to intercede in its Use of Force Policy, focusing on two essential elements—stopping unreasonable force from happening and reporting it afterwards, even if the second officer was not able to intervene. In the spirit of continuous quality improvement, in July 2020 Lexipol expanded the duty to intercede to situations where a law enforcement officer observes unreasonable force by any other law enforcement officer, within or outside the agency, as well as by members of the agency. This language goes beyond current case law requirements while taking into account the realities of policing. Lexipol policy also requires any member who witnesses an unreasonable use of force, regardless of whether an intercession occurred, “to promptly report these observations to a supervisor.” Lexipol also added a section to advise officers that other officers may have additional information and different perspectives of the ongoing situation, and to consider these possibilities when deciding whether to intervene.
Use of Force Continuum
The concept of a use of force continuum is not new to the law enforcement profession. Recently, several groups have advocated law enforcement agencies 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 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. A use of force continuum is not a panacea for guiding officers through actual force situations and fails 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
Efforts to restrict the use of police service dogs to “find and bark” tactics (vs. “find and bite”) and to limit their deployment to on-lead applications are impractical and contrary to virtually all modern training and legal standards. Agencies effectively deploying well-trained police canine teams recognize their unparalleled value in not only saving officer resources and increasing officer safety, but safely and quickly locating missing persons, evidence, contraband, and concealed or fleeing suspects.
While police service dogs can theoretically be trained to “find and bark” in a training environment, studies have shown that when deployed in real-world incidents, “find and bark” dogs may actually overreact, resulting in more bites than a properly trained and deployed “find and bite” canine team. Historically, the ratio of bites inflicted by so-called “find and bite” dogs is low compared to the number of well-executed deployments in which suspects elect to ignore clear warnings. Courts have consistently recognized that “find and bite” is constitutional when objectively reasonable under the totality of circumstances of each case.
While there is no Supreme Court holding requiring de-escalation, the legal landscape is varied and unsettled; some lower courts have considered de-escalation as a factor in determining whether the force used was objectively reasonable. In practice, most police officers recognize they should use de-escalation tactics in situations where they can be safely and effectively applied. Some departments have adopted policies or procedures directing officers to use non-violent strategies and techniques to decrease the intensity of the situation and decrease the need for force when circumstances permit.
Lexipol has traditionally addressed de-escalation in its policies covering the incidents where the techniques are most commonly effective—civil commitments, crisis intervention incidents, conducted energy device deployments (e.g., TASER®) and civil disputes. In addition, Lexipol’s Use of Force Policy guided officers to consider whether there are other reasonable options when determining whether to even apply force. In July 2020, Lexipol decided to emphasize de-escalation with a requirement and specific examples. The Use of Force Policy now includes a standalone section on de-escalation that requires officers to consider and use non-violent strategies and techniques to decrease the intensity of a situation when time and circumstances permit. These techniques should be used to improve communication with the goal of increasing voluntary compliance. These tactics include crisis intervention techniques, requesting appropriate backup, and alternative strategies to reduce the need for force.
Warning Before Deadly Force
Best practice regarding warnings before deadly force reflects both legal precedent and historical experience—generally, officers are expected to provide verbal warnings in deadly force situations whenever it is feasible and safe to do so. However, some police reform groups recommend requiring a verbal warning in every instance where deadly force might be used. The Supreme Court has addressed verbal warnings in the context of fleeing felons, but not before every use of force. In Tennessee v. Garner, the Court required a verbal warning before the use of deadly force to stop a fleeing felon under certain circumstances where the verbal warning was “feasible.” Some lower courts consider whether verbal warnings were used prior to the application of deadly force when determining whether force is “objectively reasonable,” but none explicitly require the use of verbal warnings prior to the use of deadly force.
Lexipol policy has traditionally aligned with Supreme Court precedent, stating that a verbal warning should precede the use of deadly force to stop a fleeing subject, where feasible. Recognizing this could be read to imply that warnings aren’t appropriate in other circumstances, Lexipol amended the policy in July 2020 to clarify that warnings should be used whenever reasonable before deploying deadly force. 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. Lexipol policy acknowledges the ineffectiveness and danger of this tactic, guiding officers to “move out of the path of an approaching vehicle instead of discharging their firearm at the vehicle or any of its occupants” and prohibiting discharging their weapon unless “the officer reasonably believes there are no other reasonable means available to avert the threat of the vehicle.” This guidance has been in Lexipol policy for over a decade.
Recently, police reformers have initiated a movement to ban police from shooting at moving vehicles altogether. This position does not align with Supreme Court case law as well as numerous cases in federal circuits that found shooting at vehicles is reasonable under certain circumstances where an individual or the vehicle itself was posing a deadly threat to the officer. Further, the position is not practical. There may be occasions where officers must shoot at a moving vehicle to stop the infliction of death or serious injury (e.g., vehicle attacks against crowds). Given that shooting at moving vehicles involves several real-time considerations (e.g., what precipitates the need for deadly force, the potential for striking someone or something beyond the target), it is prudent for agencies to address this issue through robust training in accordance with policy.
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 documenting any use of force, as well as additional related situations that may not constitute an actual use of force, in a written report. These situations include when a person is restrained and released without an arrest, deployment of a pepper projectile system (whether or not the launcher was used), any application of a control device, any discharge of a Conducted Energy Device (including pointing the device at a person, laser activation and arcing the device), and pointing of a firearm. Lexipol policy also requires notification of a supervisor in many circumstances in which force is used or threatened. These policies not only prescribe comprehensive reporting of individual use of force events, but also provide the basis for the agency 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. In July 2020, acknowledging that the role of supervisors has become even more vital in this regard, Lexipol added specific mandates requiring supervisors to respond to any use of force incident where there has been a visible injury. Additionally, Lexipol expanded reporting requirements for members to notify supervisors of any potential excessive use 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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