It’s never been more important for police officers to understand and consider all of their options prior to resorting to use of force. We spoke with Pam Davis, Director of the Professional Development and Training Academy for the Baltimore Police Department to understand how Baltimore has built their program.
Justice Clearinghouse Editors (JCH): Let’s start with some basic terminology. When you talk about “Use of Force,” what does that mean? What are you including in this range of actions?
Pam Davis: To put cases of use of force into perspective, there are approximately 63,000,000 police and citizen interactions a year. Of those, 13,000,000 result in an arrest. Of those 13,000,000 arrests, only 882,000 result in the use of force. That means only 1.4% of all police and citizen encounters result in a use of force. (Statistical information provided by the Police Executive Research Forum.)
The Baltimore Police Department defines Use of Force in terms of what is objectively reasonable, necessary, and proportional. Members may only use the amount of force that is objectively reasonable (Graham v. Connor), necessary, and proportional to effectively and safely resolve an incident. The sanctity of human life is at the forefront of BPD’s use of force policy, meaning that officers are expected to value all human life. There may be times when an officer has to deploy deadly force, such as when a person armed with a handgun points the gun at the officer or another person. If an officer uses deadly force, he/she must then render medical assistance to the suspect.
De-escalation is another part of understanding use of force. Many times, officers are told they must attempt to de-escalate the incident, but they are never really taught how. BPD is teaching our officers how.
Officers are expected to use good critical decision-making skills, sound tactics, adhere to policies and training, and communicate when safe and feasible. Trying to avoid putting themselves in a situation that causes them to unnecessarily use force is the focus of in-service training for 2017. The BPD has implemented Integrating Communications, Assessment, and Tactics (ICAT) into its 2017 in-service training program. The basic premise of ICAT is de-escalation. It teaches officers to use good communication skills, good tactics, recognize a person having a behavioral health crisis, and use critical decision making in all situations. In the past, officers have received training in these areas, but the training was done in silos. ICAT integrates the training so officers can have a better understanding of how to de-escalate a situation. The training is scenario-based so that officer can practice the skills in a training environment.
To put cases of use of force into perspective, there are approximately 63,000,000 police and citizen interactions a year.
Of those, 13,000,000 result in an arrest.
Of those 13,000,000 arrests, only 882,000 result in the use of force.
That means only 1.4% of all police and citizen encounters result in a use of force.
Police Executive Research Forum data
JCH: What do you think is the biggest misunderstanding police officers might have regarding the use of force? What do you think the public’s biggest misunderstanding about the use of force might be?
Pam: The biggest misunderstanding that police officers might have regarding use of force is usually centered around the reporting of the force. When agencies change their use of force policies, they must make sure officers understand the policy and know what levels of force require reporting. Another misunderstanding can sometimes be the supervisor’s role in investigating use of force. It is important that agencies train supervisors to properly investigate use of force cases.
The public’s biggest misunderstanding regarding use of force might be expecting officers to use different use of force tactics than what officers should use in deadly force incidents. Citizens will frequently ask, “why can’t the officer just shoot the gun out of his hand” or “why didn’t the officer just shoot him in the leg.” Officers are able to use deadly force on a suspect who is trying to cause death or serious bodily injury to the officer or another person. When we train officers with their firearms, we train them to shoot center mass to incapacitate the suspect. It is unreasonable to expect an officer to have the kind of marksmanship skills it would take to shoot a very small area of a moving target. It is also not sound tactics when faced with a deadly force situation. There is also no guarantee that if an officer were to shoot a gun out of the suspect’s hand that the suspect would not have another weapon or other means of trying to kill the officer. Additionally, shooting someone in the leg does not necessarily incapacitate them – someone can still shoot and kill you if his leg is injured.
JCH: How has your organization’s approach to training/preparing officers for use of force changed or evolved over the years?
Pam: The Baltimore Police Department had the same use of force policy from 2003 until July 2016. Training did focus on objective reasonableness, but the training has been enhanced over the past 2 years. The Use of Force policy was revised in 2016 to include the emphasis on the sanctity of human life and de-escalation. Also added was the duty to intercede to prevent excessive force by another member toward any person. Reporting the use of force based on levels of force was also an addition to the policy. The policy further has an appendix that guides officers on what level of use of force is reasonable based on the suspect’s actions. Officers are trained that if a suspect’s actions change, the officer may need to change the level of force that is necessary and reasonable to safely resolve the situation. Officers have received training on the policy in addition to more hands on scenario-based training centered around using good tactics, good communications skills, and critical decision making.
Training is a priority for the BPD. Officers are given tools and options to help them safely resolve a situation. In addition to the ICAT training for 2017 in-service, BPD officers are receiving Judgmental Firearms training using the TI Firearms Simulator, Defensive Tactics, and Constitutional Law. There are also classes on Procedural Justice and Fair and Impartial Policing. While the latter two classes are not directly related to use of force, they focus on the fair treatment of all people.
JCH: When a use of force situation occurs, there is often a feeling of distrust that happens between the public and the officers who serve and protect them. In your experience, was the distrust already there (between certain parts of the public and its police officers) and the incident simply brought that to light/magnified it? And perhaps, more importantly, how does a police department begin to work with the public at large to begin to repair any trust lost?
Pam: If a use of force situation occurs that appears to be excessive or unnecessary, there is definitely public criticism and mistrust that follows. Being transparent with these cases is important to demonstrate to the public that the agency recognizes when a mistake is made and what they are doing to alleviate the possibility of it happening again. Soliciting citizens’ feedback and really listening to them is a good way to help them feel that they are part of the solution. It is also important to listen to officers’ suggestions for training and their ideas for improving trust in the community. The officers are in the community daily and many have forged great partnerships in their working areas.
At the BPD Professional Development and Training Academy, we have a Community Engagement Unit. This Unit does outreach to the residents of Baltimore City and creates training programs for them. There are multiple Citizens Police Academies annually, quarterly Critical Decision-Making classes, Youth Academies, and other programs to involve citizens in our training. It gives them a chance to see our training and understand the difficulty of making split-second decisions. They can ask questions and offer ideas for improving trust in the community. It also promotes interaction between the officers and citizens to help establish long-lasting relationships with each other.
Soliciting citizens’ feedback and really listening to them
is a good way to help them feel that they are part of the solution.
It is also important to listen to officers’ suggestions for training
and their ideas for improving trust in the community.
The officers are in the community daily
and many have forged great partnerships in their working areas.
JCH: Use of Force has become a hot topic as of late – so much so that some would say there is a “chilling effect” among some officers who may hesitate in encounters that could lead to a use of force. In fact, In our own recent Justice Clearinghouse online polling, half of all respondents said yes, to the question “Would recent negative media and public response to police use of force incidents cause you to hesitate if you had to use force?” How would you coach officers who feeling this pressure? How has your organization worked to help officers overcome such worries?
Pam: During training at BPD, we stress the importance of safety for everyone involved. We give officers tools to use to make themselves and those involved in the encounter safer. There are going to be times when officers have to use force to resolve an incident. They just want to know they will be supported when this happens. If they follow their training and adhere to department policies, they will be supported. It is important for police executives to make sure their use of force training and departmental policies are centered around best practices. This will help officers feel more comfortable when it comes making decisions to use force.
JCH: If you could provide just one piece of advice to a patrol officer who’s reading this, before they go back out on duty today, regarding the use of force, what would it be?
Pam: If there is no imminent threat of harm to others (such as an active shooter), slow down – take a tactical pause. If possible, meet up with other responding officers to develop a plan prior to engaging a suspect. Try not rush into an incident and create your own jeopardy. Think about your options. Give yourself a chance to make good decisions. Use cover and distance to create time. Time will allow you to communicate with the suspect and other officers. It will help you increase your options. Officers should also be thinking about who is best to handle the situation – for example, if you have a case involving someone who is having a behavioral health crisis, is there a CIT officer who can respond to assist? The goal for any situation is to gain voluntary compliance of the person you are dealing with. However, if you have to use force, make sure it is objectively reasonable, proportional, and necessary.