Stay with me here...I'm going to attack a sacred cow. You know what that is, right? A "sacred cow" is a belief that is so strongly held, or has been in place for so long, that no one questions it anymore--it's just accepted as truth.
How many law enforcement sacred cows can you name right now, off the top of your head? If it's less than ten, you're not even trying.
Here's one of my favorites--force continuums. Or, at least, the concept of the "force continuum." Depending on who you listen to, they've either been around since the early 1980s, or they have their roots in early 20th century policing. No matter. There are few of us in policing nowadays that can remember a time when force continuums weren't a concept to be reckoned with, in policy and in training.
Here's the problem. A continuum is useful for one thing--illustrating the relationship between resistance and control. It's a "picture" that is used to help someone understand the concept of a balanced response to aggression. In this regard, a continuum is a theoretical construct, and a useful one.
A Little History
Over the years, the concept of the continuum has gotten all stretched out of shape. It started when we began using it to justify our actions, i.e., our response to forceful provocation. Continuums found their way into courtrooms, used by both the defense (us) and the plaintiffs (them). Sometimes the same continuum would be used to support both sides of a case. Figure that one out.
Continuums also began to be incorporated into policy, and that created an even bigger problem. In many cases, the way these continuums were assimilated into policy led departments to unknowingly adopt a higher standard for use of force than the courts required. In the last couple of years, a growing number of police trainers and authors, as well as many police defense attorneys, have begun to speak out against this use of continuums.
What does all this have to do with technology? Good question! The fact is that continuums are almost always cast in terms of the technology in use by a given department, and that is highly problematic. We took a concept--a theoretical construct--and we turned it into a "list" of weapons, placed in some theoretical rank order, based on our perception of the damage those weapons or tools might do. In doing so, we created a monster, and further distorted the concept of the continuum.
Here's an example: Where does your department place OC on your continuum? That was the burning question (oops, sorry--bad pun) 10 to 15 years ago. That question consumed reams of paper in lesson plans, research articles, and written policies, and never was properly answered.
Today the same question is applied to electronic control devices, or conducted energy weapons--typically TASERs. So, where does your department place the TASER on your continuum?
The placement of a specific tool or weapon onto a continuum is supposedly based on the degree of force the tool represents. The problem is that this concept of "force" is a nebulous thing, very difficult to quantify. What exactly does it mean? Is it rooted in the tool's potential to overcome resistance? Or maybe in the degree of potential damage the tool can cause?
In the early 1990s I shifted careers, and got involved in risk management. In learning my new "trade," I got pretty involved in trying to understand policy issues, especially as they related to high risk police activities like use of force. Naturally, this stuff about continuums was at the center of many departments' policy development efforts. Many of us thought that we knew the answers to questions about weapon placement on continuums. But, the more we tried to refine the concept, the muddier it became. Eventually, it became clear that continuums just cannot and should not be used in the way we were trying to use them. That's the sacred cow, and the first time I brought these issues up at a mid-1990s ASLET conference, the audience looked at me like I had just committed heresy.