Understanding Video Taped Police Use of Force

Recommendations for Agencies and Officers when incidents are caught on tape


Officers must:

  • Know the law including the Constitutional standards
  • Have a lawful objective for taking action based on Reasonable Suspicion or Probable Cause
  • Follow policy
  • Avoid profanity on the street which might be captured on tape
  • Report all use of force incidents promptly to a supervisor
  • Identify witnesses for interview by supervision
  • Review the tape prior to writing your report to aid your recall
  • Properly document the incident
  • Ensure that each officer involved writes their own use of force report
  • Don’t hesitate to contact a union shift rep for guidance
  • Understand that good police reports are seldom first drafts and rewriting is usually called for
  • Have a senior officer or your supervisor read the draft before submission

Writing the Report

Documentation must include the following: the totality of the circumstances including but not limited to: the severity of the crime; the threat to officers or others; whether the suspect was actively resisting arrest; or attempting to evade arrest by flight; if/how the circumstances were tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving.  Other factors like environment, location, multiple suspects, size disparity, injury, exhaustion and more should be documented as well.  Don’t document by way of conclusions, i.e. “He resisted arrest,” or “I attempted to control him.”  Specifically list instead the facts of what the suspect did and said as well as what you said and did.  If you apply force (spray your pepper spray or deploy your electronic control device) put the details down of where they were applied, for how long and what the suspect did in response.  Avoid police jargon, write clearly in a way that a layperson would be able to understand.

Wrap-Up

I ask my officers, “Do you really think that there is anywhere you police that your actions will not be captured on videotape?”  From cell phones to business surveillance cameras to the camera system in your own patrol vehicle or those of other officers, even from other agencies, that your actions and those of your Brother officers will be captured on tape is a very real possibility.  First of all, do the right thing and then properly document your actions after viewing the tape.  Agencies don’t assume that because it looks “bad” or violent that it is excessive.  Examine the tape with the objective reasonableness standard in mind based on the totality of the circumstances at the moment the officer used force.

In most instances these tapes work for us not against us we just need to be prepared to articulate and justify our actions and properly investigate the incident.

 

About the Author:

Kevin Davis is a full-time officer assigned to the training bureau where he specializes in use of force, firearms and tactical training. With over 23 years in law enforcement, his previous experience includes patrol, corrections, narcotics and he is a former team leader and lead instructor for his agency's SWAT team with over 500 call-outs in tactical operations.

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