FEATURED IN TRAINING
For several years, law enforcement training has propagated a familiar mantra regarding “another tool in your toolbox.” That somewhat worn-out phrase has been used to justify a lot of equipment, and, many times, rightfully so. However, when is the proverbial toolbox too full? When is an officer overburdened by equipment to the point of being physically challenged to carry so much gear? More importantly, what about the need to make force option decisions during rapidly unfolding dynamic incidents?
In the end, each officer must be able to defend their decision not only to use force, but also why they chose the particular tool they did. The officer’s agency must be able to produce records of training and qualification that demonstrate the officer’s certification on specific force option tools. Let’s have a closer look.
Too Much Stuff?
Gone are the days of a uniformed officer hitting the streets with only a sidearm, spare ammo, set of handcuffs, radio and a baton on their Sam Browne. It’s almost a certainty that oleoresin capsicum (OC) and a Taser will also be taking up space and adding weight to an already crowded and heavy gun belt. Add a small flashlight, knife/multi-tool and the must-have cell phone—there’s virtually no room left on most patrol officer’s belts.
That’s just the personally-carried gear. An inspection of most patrol cars reveals the ubiquitous 12-gauge shotgun (in lethal configuration), an AR-15 or similar .223 carbine and, in many cases, a dedicated 12-gauge less-lethal platform or PepperBall launcher.
At our most recent quarterly defensive tactics training, I overheard a few officers discussing their choice of impact weapons. During the discussion, there was also talk about “all the gear we are required to carry.” A debate ensued about the pros and cons of batons vs. OC vs. Taser. The officers each had their own likes and dislikes, along with specific reasons for them. Bottom line: There exists a desire to carry less gear and be more proficient with the gear that works best. It reminded me of the old adage: “Beware the man who owns but one gun, for he surely knows how to use it.”
Just like the tools in a carpenter’s toolbox, the tools carried by law enforcement each have a specific purpose. Each carries with it capabilities and limitations. It’s the responsibility of the person carrying the tools to know their equipment—its capabilities, limitations and the allowances and limitations prescribed by law on the use this equipment. It’s the responsibility of the agency to ensure the training that supports the equipment is contemporary and within “industry standard.”
What to Do?
Consider the following scenario: A suspect who’s obviously under the influence of drugs and has committed a misdemeanor battery against a stranger refuses to comply with your lawful orders to turn around and place his hands behind his back. You tell him he’s under arrest and repeat your lawful order. Instead of complying, the suspect removes his shirt and assumes a fighting stance, yelling at you, “I’m gonna kick your ass!” as he rapidly aggresses toward you.
One officer might consider applying OC spray and another might consider drawing their Taser and giving a Taser warning prior to deployment. Which officer is right? Is either one wrong? The answer lies in the ability of the officer, based upon their level of training and experience, as well as their ability to articulate why they chose the particular force option.
Graham v. Conner (the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision and a defining use-of-force case) recognizes that the force chosen doesn’t have to be the “best” choice, but it must be “objectively reasonable.” In California, 835(a) of the Penal Code authorizes LEOs to use force to overcome resistance, prevent escape and/or affect arrest. Important: All officers must be thoroughly knowledgeable regarding their authority to apply force. Just as important is the ability to justify in writing (arrest report) and verbally (testimony in a criminal or civil suit) how and why they used the type of force they used.
Cost & the Real World
In a perfect world, cost would never be a consideration in equipping and training LE professionals. However, cost is always a consideration and, sadly, sometimes it’s the deciding factor. There are costs involved in the initial acquisition of equipment as well as training. Then there are the ongoing costs of maintaining equipment and refresher training. These costs aren’t insignificant in the best of economic times.
Because of this, proper selection of equipment and personnel to which the training and equipment is provided is critically important. (Note: In most agencies, not everyone is trained or certified on all less-lethal options. Options such as PepperBall or extended-range kinetic energy impact munitions are force options provided to a smaller, select group.)
Train for It
Scenario-based training is one of the best training techniques available to law enforcement. Properly administered, this type of training will test mindset, decision-making under stress and physical proficiency within the entire use of force spectrum.