OPINION: A response to a councillor’s comment about “use of force.”

A borough councillor posed this question at the Columbia news, views & reviews‘ facebook page;

“It would be interesting to hear YOUR policy for use of force for yourself. Let the world know what you are willing to except being done to you and where the line is drawn.”

Our answer, councillor, is this:

COIN 2The challenge coin presented to persons who attended trainings and exercises we facilitated. “Be Save – Be Nice – Do Good” is the same mantra we shared with warriors we served with.

“Frankly, councillor, we are disturbed, but not surprised, by your commentary. And we’ve thought awhile before responding. Firstly, as your question suggests, because use of force policies and continuum of force policies generally do not apply to citizens.

When talking about use of force or continuum of force policies, the conversation top of mind relates to those societal roles that are legally or statutorily empowered to use deadly force. Let’s think law enforcement and military.

We have never been a law enforcement officer but did serve decades in leadership roles in the US Army. We have, though, interacted and coordinated with law enforcement officers in training and real-world assistance capacities. We’ve been in combat situations and peacetime circumstances that required use of force; e.g., Camp Hill Prison incident and civil unrest.

Basically, military and civilian personnel engaged in law enforcement or security duties will avoid the use of force where they can carry out their duties without resorting to its use. In such cases where the use of force is warranted, personnel will use the minimum amount of force necessary to reach their objective. Only as a last resort will deadly force be used.

We believe that, overwhelmingly, law enforcement personnel and military personnel do not abuse the powers they hold as they go about their missions. We think it is the exceptionally small slice of police and military warriors who violate the fundamental operational guidance they’re trained to engage. We do not ever want to give an impression that we minimize or denigrate the intentions and actions of the overwhelming majority of law enforcement officers. Their jobs are fraught with the possibility of danger and hazardous outcomes. Hyper-vigilance is earned, but it does not make everyone a threat that subordinates or overrides training.

We also believe that citizens — in peacetime and in wartime — must have confidence they’ll be accorded full support of the laws of the land or Geneva Convention protections.

But we’re talking US citizens and US policing elements here. Citizens must know the details of  continuum of force because police are not warriors or occupying forces. Citizens have an express right to know how, when and why these “defenders and protectors” may resort to unbridled violent responses, including deadly force and murder.

Militarily, these are the United States Army’s conditions of use of force:

“Commanders are encouraged to substitute nonlethal devices for firearms when considered adequate for safely performing law enforcement and security duties. In evaluating the degree of force required for specific law enforcement or security situations, the following options should be considered in the order listed: (1) Verbal persuasion. (2) Unarmed defense techniques. (3) Chemical aerosol irritant projectors (subject to host nation or local restrictions). (4) MP club. (5) Military working dogs. (6) Presentation of deadly force capability . (7) Deadly force.”

Overwhelmingly police officers we’ve known opt for the first level (verbal persuasion) before resorting to other items on their belts to gain compliance. But, what’s important to note here: the conditions of use of force have to be in writing. This, councillor, is what every citizen has a right to know about its police department.

When there’s a breakdown in discipline on the part of a “bad cop” or “bad soldier” or “bad priest” we believe the finger of blame, as well, has to be directed to a breakdown of leadership or training. It is the leaders or those who tell leaders what to do that serve as the breeding ground for hostile policing actions. Tough guy diatribe from elected public servants or “laissez faire” attitudes lead to police officer bad decisions. Decisions that deviate from the continuum of force.

Militarily speaking, again, “Personnel will not be permitted to perform law enforcement or security duties requiring the use of weapons until they have received instruction on applicable regulations for the use of deadly force in the performance of such duties. Additionally, annual refresher training will be given to all personnel assigned to those duties to ensure that they continue to be thoroughly familiar with all restrictions on the use of deadly force.”

Having citizens know the “continuum of force” is not a bad thing nor does it compromise the effectiveness of the department or the officer. Knowing, though, instills a sense of awareness and understanding within the community.

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