Understanding the Objectively Reasonable Standard 'Overcome Resistance' (Part Three) - Tactics and Weapons - LawOfficer.com

Understanding the Objectively Reasonable Standard 'Overcome Resistance' (Part Three)



Curtis J. (Jeff) Cope | Joe Callanan | Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Your authors entered the law enforcement profession in the late 1960s, at a time when police work was frequently considered a contact sport. Recruits were generally large, Caucasian males with prior military service and perhaps a GED certificate or high school diploma.

Most states were in the earlier stages of establishing minimum hiring and training standards for law enforcement positions. Impact weapons consisted of straight hardwood batons, saps and the occasional flashlight. Firearms revolved with six rounds chambered and perhaps another twelve rounds in a dump pouch affixed to a Sam Browne belt, some of which were further secured by a garrison strap across the officer s chest. The common holsters available were either a cross draw or a clam shell type both void of any safety features and a Jordan type that secured the firearm into the holster with a single strap/snap fixed behind the hammer of the revolver.

Police vehicles were called radio cars because it was the car not the officer that held the communications. Juvenile subjects had no articulated rights, and possession of marijuana or a marijuana seed was a felony crime. Persons in the country illegally were quickly arrested, turned over to the federal authorities and deported on the same day. Hot Sheets were issued three times a day, and they listed stolen cars alphanumerically by license plate. Few patrol officers really understood the definition ofprobable causeor the difference between an arrest and a detention.

A new U.S. Supreme Court ruling required officers to advise persons arrested that they had the right to remain silent. There was a well-grounded belief that the badge worn was a badge of honor and authority, not something to be taken lightly. Police salaries in the better-funded departments were in the $600 700 per month category and each officer had to purchase their own uniforms and equipment. Police policy consisted of two instructions: 1) do the right thing, and 2) just do your best. Talk about the good ol days of policing.

The 1970s saw a plethora of new training programs, legal education, salary enhancements and a steady march toward true professionalism. In the cities and other populated areas, many departments underwent growth and development. Federal civil rights and case rulings began to frame legitimate police authority and restrict police misconduct, be it intentional or inadvertent. Social values changed significantly and the task of policing became much more precise and technical.

The point:In the 30 or so years proceeding the turn of the century, law enforcement officers were granted rather broad authority to carry out their assigned duties and to use force when necessary to overcome resistance. In effect, the intuitive or practical knowledge concerning police use-of-force evolved slowly and certainly in the 1980s and 1990s into a very precise, technical and codified body of laws, particularly at the federal level.[1]

For those seasoned officers specifically assigned to tactical and/or training duties, it was becoming increasingly clear that several factors other than the traditional state penal codes were influencing the speed and direction of the push for greater professionalism within the law enforcement community. This long-term observation has run a full course in terms of search and seizure, arrest and detention, and the escalation and de-escalation of force.

Marching to the Federal Court s Drumbeat
One of the most significant changes or evolutions affecting the law enforcement community has been the steady drumbeat of the federal court in matters concerning the apprehension and post-arrest treatment of criminal suspects. What had previously been accepted and practiced under state-level regulation of police use-of-force was eventually recast to better comply with newer, over-riding federal guidelines.An example:The 1975Downs v. United Statesruling placed a significant and still-applicable ruling of law concerning the limitations to the police authority to legitimately use force in overcoming resistance.[2] In that case, an assembly of state and federal officers charged a high-jacked airplane and engaged in a firefight that left the suspect, the hostages and some officers either dead or injured. After a lengthy trial, the court determined that the police tactic was simply a plan of attack only, not a plan of apprehension or rescue. This was the first contemporary notice to law enforcement that the authority to use force had certain limitations, a concept not yet contained in typical police policy or training.

Remember: If you re a practicing professional peace officer, you have the vested authority to use objectively reasonable force to overcome resistance, but that authority has limitations predicated on the totality of the circumstances and the level of resistance projected by the offender. In simple terms, a motorist refusing to sign a traffic citation differs greatly from a fleeing bank robber armed with a handgun.

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Curtis J. (Jeff) CopeCurtis J. (Jeff) Cope is a retired police lieutenant from the City of Huntington Beach (Calif.) with more than 29 years of active law enforcement service.


Joe Callananis a retired sheriff's lieutenant from the County of Los Angeles (CA) with an extensive patrol background including SWAT and special operations.


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