After the Webinar: Use of Force – Improved Performance through an Evidence Based Approach. Q&A with Ashley Heiberger

Webinar presenter Ashley Heiberger answered a number of your questions after his presentation, Use of Force: Improved Performance through an Evidence-Based Approach. Here are just a few of his responses.


Audience Question: Is there any kind of analysis that you’re aware of with military police use of force and rules of engagement? Have you ever seen any comparisons or anything like that?

Ashley Heiberger: Well, obviously, I’ve always worked with civilian police, both as a sworn officer and in my consulting role. I do believe that a man named David Bolgiano, if I’m remembering that correctly, is a military lawyer. And I believe he’s written quite extensively about that very topic. But I don’t have any particular knowledge there, so I would refer you to him or others like him on that specific question.


Audience Question: What was his name again? And we’ll get this on the resource page too.

Ashley Heiberger: I believe it was David Bolgiano.

Host: Could I, can I annoy you and ask you to spell the last name?

Ashley Heiberger: I knew you were going to do that. I think it’s B O L G I A N O. But don’t quote me on that, but it’s something like that. Again, he’s here, and he’s written extensively on that particular issue.


Audience Question: What is the major cause attributed to excessive use of force in criminal cases?

Ashley Heiberger:  Wow, that’s an interesting question. Just off the top of my head, there’s only about 2% of the cases that ever result in criminal charges. I’m really not sure what goes through an officer’s mind when they cross that line. The way we saw it in Minneapolis, and the way we saw it in Memphis, I think it’s much easier to unpack cases that are determined to be constitutional violations, where officers just made poor decisions or engaged in bad tactics. But I think the criminal side is just its own animal, and I don’t pretend to understand it.


Audience Question: In your experience, how often should staff be trained in use of force or review use of force? Is reading a policy training and can it be held up in court?

Ashley Heiberger: Well, certainly, policy review is a component of training. It should not be the only thing an agency has done. What I recommend to my client agencies is that they have training at least twice a year, semi-annually. So, you’re only six months in between range days. And at the beginning of every range day, they start by taking about 20 to 30 minutes to go over the policy and administer one of those written knowledge checks. You’re giving them a quiz or a task before they ever started putting rounds downrange. The other thing that I encourage is doing policy reviews periodically. For us, it seemed to work out that we could have roll call training on Sunday mornings for about 15 or 20 minutes. We pull one policy every Sunday that we’re working. So that way you’re getting officers back into the policy in between those biannual formal training sessions. And another thing that I recommend is certainly you have to read the policy during that refresher training, but you should have discussions as well. Again, anybody can read the policy and then recite back the language of the regulation. But I think you want to get inside officers’ heads and talk about scenarios, saying, given this fact pattern, what are your force options? And make them talk about what they would do. I think that’s very helpful, as well. So, I certainly understand the need to read the policy, but I think you need to go beyond just simply reading the policy in formal and informal training sessions.


Audience Question: Do you think there will be a national system for tracking use of force data?

Ashley Heiberger: Well, we’ve had this voluntary system in place for several years, and it hasn’t really gotten us the results that we’d like. Again, I don’t think it reflects very well on us that the media has much more accurate information regarding fatal officer-involved shootings than governmental agencies. I think the infrastructure is there, but the government would have to mandate it because the voluntary reporting doesn’t seem to be working out very well.


Audience Question: Could we talk more about de-escalation for a minute? Why are police leaders allowing political will to alter the tenets of officers’ safety in exchange for appeasing public outcry? I don’t know if you have any thoughts on that one. I think it’s a fascinating question.

Ashley Heiberger: Well, I think that because that the way that question was phrased, presupposes a certain perspective and I think that varies among individuals. I mean de-escalation has gotten a lot of attention. Certainly, post-Ferguson, the atmosphere has changed. I went to the Police Academy in 1995 and some of the basic tenents of de-escalation, slowing things down. not rushing into situations that may put you in peril, things like that. We call it de-escalation, but those were sound tactics that we were taught then. So, from my perspective, and others may not share this, but I believe that good officers have been practicing de-escalation for decades, even though we didn’t always call it that then. That had nothing to do with it because certainly, it was a different environment back then. There was much less criticism of law enforcement as a profession, and of police conduct and behavior. So, we were doing that back then, in a different sociopolitical atmosphere if you will. I do teach de-escalation as a standalone topic and when I do so, I make it very, very clear, and I alluded to this earlier, that not every situation lends itself to de-escalation and that officers should not jeopardize their safety or the safety of anyone else trying to de-escalate a situation that does not lend itself to de-escalation. Having said that, I’m a big advocate of de-escalation, of those tactics and techniques. I mean whether you call it de-escalation or not, I think that if there’s a way that you can safely reduce the probability of having to use force, I think we should explore it.


Audience Question: What is the value of post-incident debriefings for agency training of officers, especially as it relates to use of force?

Ashley Heiberger: Well, I think the concept of a post-incident debrief for an after-action review or whatever you want to call it, I think that’s vitally important. Because just like athletes watch game film and critique their performance, I think that we should be doing the same thing. Looking at how the incident went, and what our officers did right, where they might have been able to improve their performance, if there were other options available, why did they choose this particular option? How might things have gone? Did you consider this? Did you consider that? I think it’s always good to look at our performance with a somewhat critical eye and ask ourselves how we could have done better.


Audience Question: Do you offer de-escalation training?

Ashley Heiberger: I do it, but not as an individual. I do it through several organizations. I try to avoid plugging myself during these Justice Clearinghouse webinars. So, if anyone is interested in that, please feel free to contact me offline.


Click Here to Watch a Recording of Use of Force: Improved Performance through an Evidence-Based Approach.  


Additional Resources
4 years ago
Use-of-Force Constitutional Standards versus Force Continuum
Different factors come into play in use of force incidents. However, a thorough understanding betwee […]
6 years ago
Use of Force: Integrating Communications, Assessment, and Tactics
With the recent shooting at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, lots of law enforcement and legislative i […]
7 years ago
Infographic: Use of Force
In the course of doing their jobs, officers often have to make split-second decisions — dec […]
7 years ago
Use of Force and Officer Safety
No one becomes an officer wanting to use excessive force to detain or apprehend people. But in the […]