Sacred Cows will Get You Hurt

Force continuums are no place to list your weapons and techniques


Technology vs. Continuums

Simply stated, you cannot place specific tools, techniques or weapons, or any other technology, at any specific place on a continuum. And, you certainly can't base your department's policies and procedures on such a continuum.

Let's try. Most of us would agree that impact weapons represent intermediate force--which is usually defined as use of force with an implement that is likely to result in an injury that is non-lethal--and many departments place them relatively high on their continuum, usually directly below deadly force. Seems safe. Wait a minute though, what if you hit someone in the head with your baton? Oh, you say, that's deadly force! Why? Because it's likely to result in serious injury or death, you say. Okay, then where do you put the baton? Is it intermediate force or deadly force?

What about your handgun? Deadly force, of course--right? Hard to disagree with that, after all the commonly used definition of deadly force is drawn from the Model Penal Code, and is loosely stated as any force that is likely to result in death or great bodily harm. Shooting someone certainly meets that definition. Clearly, a firearm is deadly force, and should be placed at the top of the continuum.

Or should it? Shooting someone is clearly deadly force, but what about just pointing your firearm at them? Is that deadly force as well? Does it meet the definition we just stated? Probably not. Pointing a firearm at someone is not likely to result in death or great bodily harm. So, where do we put the firearm on our continuum?

Let's go back to that question about the OC. What level of force does it represent? Many departments hold that use of OC is unlikely to result in injury, but it's helpful in reducing injuries to officers and suspects if it's used early on, at the low end of the continuum, before the fight starts. That places it below or in the lower end of "empty-hand techniques". But wait a minute, OC is an implement, it's not "empty-hand." Hmmmm…

Of course, the flip side of the argument is made by other departments. Since there was a lot of talk about people dying or being seriously injured by OC, some departments placed it high on their continuum, just below deadly force. But, if the rationale for doing that is that it was dangerous to use at the lower end of the continuum, then shouldn't it have to meet the definition for deadly force? "Any force that is likely to result in death or great bodily harm." Does anyone really believe that OC meets that definition? If not, then why put it way up there on the high end of the continuum?

By the way, both of the preceding arguments apply almost exactly to the issue of TASERs in the more recent context. So, where do we place our OC and TASERs? Are they low-level control devices, unlikely to result in injury? Or are they high level weapons, the use of which is likely to result in death or serious injury? We have to know, because we have to place them on our continuum! Don't we?

Remember that we need to factor in the likelihood of injury, as well. Just because some technique or some weapon "might" cause a certain outcome, death for example, does not mean that it's "likely" to. Anything "might" cause death, so does that mean that every tool, weapon or technique you have should be classified as deadly force? No, of course not. We have to base decisions on likely outcomes, not just possible ones.

And just for fun, consider handcuffs and other restraint devices. No question--if we're placing force implements on the continuum, they have to go on there somewhere. We never have figured that one out.

You can carry this argument on through just about any tool or technique you can think of: neck restraints, your patrol unit, a punch or a kick, your mere presence, the list is endless. And the same questions apply to all.

The Real Issue

  • Enhance your experience.

    Thank you for your regular readership of and visits to Officer.com. To continue viewing content on this site, please take a few moments to fill out the form below and register on this website.

    Registration is required to help ensure your access to featured content, and to maintain control of access to content that may be sensitive in nature to law enforcement.