Principles on Use of Force
The majority of law enforcement officers have no desire to engage in a physical confrontation during their duties. However, due to their mandate, law enforcers often deal with violently resisting subjects. Use of force helps an officer to gain control of a subject using no more force than is reasonably necessary. However regard to officer safety and to minimizing harm to the subject must remain at the fore.
According to the UN Basic Principles on Law Enforcement and Use of Force and Firearms, law enforcement officials, in carrying out their duties, shall, as far as possible, apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force and firearms. The principles on use of force are:
1. The principle of necessity.
The principle of necessity has three interrelated elements:
- The duty to use non-violent means wherever possible.
- The duty to use force only for a legitimate law enforcement purpose.
- The duty to use only the minimum necessary force that is reasonable in the prevailing circumstances.
When force is necessary, it must be no more than the minimum that is reasonably necessary in the circumstances. Wherever possible, law enforcement officials should use non-violent means to achieve a legitimate law enforcement objective before resorting to physical force. They may use force and firearms only if other means remain ineffective. They may also use force if no other means can help to achieve the intended result. Improper use of force includes:
- Using it vindictively or as a form of extrajudicial punishment.
- Using it in a discriminatory manner.
- Using it against an individual offering no resistance.
- Use of additional force when the need has passed, such as when a suspect is safely and lawfully detained.
2. The principle of proportionality.
Proportionality does not mean that a law enforcement official must use force. Instead, this principle sets a ceiling on what amounts to lawful use of force according to the threat that an individual or group poses and the offence that the individual or group are about to commit. Whenever the officer cannot avoid the lawful use of force and firearms, he should act in proportion to the seriousness of the offence and the objective he wishes to achieve. Proportionality only comes into play if the principle of necessity is respected. Thus, the use of force must already be necessary in the circumstances and the force actually used must be no more than the minimum necessary to achieve a legitimate law enforcement objective.
3. The principle of precaution
The principle of precaution underpins the principles of necessity and proportionality. Under the principle of precaution, the state is duty bound to plan law enforcement operations in a manner that minimizes the risk of law enforcement officials having to potentially use lethal force. The rationale is to limit the risk of death or serious injury to any member of the public or law enforcement official.
Whenever lawful use of force and firearms is unavoidable, law enforcement officials must minimize damage and injury and respect and preserve human life. In addition, with a view to preserving life, law enforcement officials must also ensure that they render assistance and medical aid to any injured or affected persons at the earliest possible moment. This must equally be part of the planning process for law enforcement operations.
Types of Force
1. Officer Presence
Many people do not feel that presence is a force option, but in actual fact, a law enforcement officer’s mere presence often influences or controls a person’s behaviour. Officer presence includes appearance, uniform, reputation, physical stature and number of officers.
2. Communication (Dialogue)
These are verbal skills in conjunction with non-verbal skills. They include suggestions, advice, directions, loud commands, facial expressions, stance and eye contact. Officers use dialogue continually with the rest of the force options. An extremely high percentage of all encounters with offenders are resolved at this level.
3. Physical Control (Empty Hand Option)
This is where the officer controls or subdues the suspect without any form of weapon in his hand (empty hand). This is applied where the subject is passive and not physically resisting the officer. It includes:
- Escort Position – one of the officer’s hands is around the subject’s wrist. The other hand is placed just above the elbow. The officer is behind the subject and can easily feel any signs of aggression.
- Superior physical strength through size of the officer or numbers of officers.
- Balance displacement techniques – this is the act of increasing or decreasing a person’s physical stability. It gives law enforcement officers an advantage in a physical confrontation. This is because if you minimize the balance of subjects, you reduce their ability to apply useful speed or strength. Speed and strenght are necessary for creating resistance or escalation during an arrest. Examples include throws and takedowns.
- Pain compliance techniques – these include a variety of pain-inducing techniques available to officers to persuade an uncooperative subject to comply with the officers’ demands. These include joint locks, pressure points etc.
- Weaponless impact – the officer uses his empty hands or legs to immobilize the subject e.g., through strikes, kicks etc.
4. Intermediate Weapons
This option has relevance to modern day policing as technology is always inventing new methods for less than lethal force. It represents an intermediate group of weapons between empty hand control and firearms. Intermediate weapons include targeted spray, baton, tear gas, police dogs and tasers.
5. Lethal Force
This involves use of firearms and other deadly weapons. It also includes any other weapon or technique used in a manner that is likely or intended to cause grievous bodily harm or death. Examples are an intentional punch to the throat or a baton strike to the head. Law enforcement officers may use lethal force only when necessary. The officer must have a reasonable belief that the subject of such force poses an imminent danger of death or grievous bodily harm to the officer or to another person.
Grievous bodily harm means a bodily injury that creates a substantial risk of death or causes serious permanent disfigurement. This includes long-term loss or impairment of the functioning of any bodily member or organ. Necessary means that no other reasonable alternative is available. There is no safe alternative to using deadly force. Without deadly force, you or others would face imminent and grave danger of death or grievous bodily harm. Reasonable belief means the facts, circumstances, inferences and perceptions that the officer draws when deadly force is used. The reasonable belief or decision must be viewed from the perspective of the officer on the scene. The office may often be forced to make split second decisions in circumstances that are tense, unpredictable and rapidly evolving.