In a recent case , a mentally ill man was allotted 30 seconds to let go of a post and accompany the police to a mental hospital. He refused and was tased five times, handcuffed and shackled face down where he died. (Armstrong v. Village of Pinehurst (January 11, 2016).)
In 2011, during an Occupy protest, at the University of California at Davis, when students refused to disperse, officers used military grade pepper spray at close range. The university paid over $1 million in civil settlements.
In both instances, police used an excessive amount of force but what should they have done?
The Orlando Police Department created this Use of Force Continuum with definitions of levels of resistance to clarify the appropriate level of force response:
Suspect resistance Officer use of force
1. No resistance – Officer presence
2. Verbal noncompliance – Verbal commands
3. Passive resistance – Hands-on tactics, chemical spray
(The subject fails to obey verbal direction,
preventing the officer from taking lawful action)
4. Active resistance – Intermediate weapons: baton, Taser, strikes, non deadly force
(The subject’s actions are intended to facilitate an escape or
prevent an arrest. The action is not likely to cause injury)
5. Aggressive resistance – Intermediate weapons, intensified techniques, non deadly force
(The subject has battered or is about to batter an officer,
and the subject’s action is likely to cause injury)
6. Deadly-force resistance – Deadly force
(The subject’s actions are likely to cause death or
significant bodily harm to the officer or another person)
(Adapted from the Orlando, Florida, Police Department’s Resistance and Response Continuum)
In the Armstrong case, holding on to a post would be classified as passive resistance and hands-on tactics/chemical spray are recommended; a taser is not appropriate. The U.C. Davis students also failed to obey verbal direction and were passive resisters but chemical spray, though listed as an appropriate response constituted excessive force when sprayed in the faces of kneeling protesters.
Use of force is an officer’s last option — a necessary course of action to restore safety in a community when other practices are ineffective.” The level of force to be used is the minimum amount necessary to mitigate an incident, make an arrest, or protect themselves or others from harm. The appropriate level of force used varies based on the situation and the officer’s level of training or experience. “ (Michael E. Miller, “Taser Use and the Use-of-Force Continuum: Examining the Effect of Policy Change,” The Police Chief 77 (September 2010): 72–76, http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/naylor/CPIM0910/index.php#/72)
Obviously, police training in hands-on techniques and de-escalating charged situations using verbal commands are needed. Only training and experience will result in increasing the likelihood of an appropriate response.