This project's goals were to identify existing variations in use-of-force policies among law enforcement agencies, with attention to the use of a force continuum approach, and to determine which types of policies offer more beneficial outcomes for police personnel.
The latter objective involved determining which policies are more likely to provide officers assistance and guidance regarding decisions on the use of force, as well which policies are associated with less force (amount and type), injuries to suspects and officers, citizen complaints, and lawsuits against the police. Based on a mail survey to a stratified random sample of police agencies across the country, the study found that just over 80 percent of the responding agencies used some type of force continuum policy. Of these, 73 percent relied on a linear design, followed by matrix/box designs and circular/wheel designs at 10 percent each. In terms of force progression, 123 different permutations were detected, ranging from 3 to 9 different levels. Overall, there is no "commonly" used means of tactical placement in force continuum policies (i.e., where various forms of hands-on and weapons should be placed in relation to varying forms of suspect resistance). Law enforcement agencies apparently do not rely on empirical evidence in determining which approach is best or even better than another. Based on the results of the agency survey, eight agencies were selected for a more thorough comparative analysis. Based on study findings, the researchers could not unanimously recommend or condemn one use-of-force policy over another based on all outcome measures. This study does, however, provide empirical evidence of various strengths and weaknesses across many important police outcomes. It is left to police executives to consider those outcomes most important or relevant to them and their constituencies. 46 references and appended study instruments
Date Published: May 1, 2011