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Tactical Operations Liability, Part 1

NCJ Number
Law and Order Volume: 56 Issue: 4 Dated: April 2008 Pages: 72-76
Stephenie Slahor
Date Published
April 2008
5 pages
This first part of a two-part article provides instruction in ways that tactical police units can reduce the risk for successful, expensive liability litigation that may follow use-of-force incidents.
In a use-of-force case, the focus of the plaintiff's attorney will be on whether the actions and use of force matched the department's policy and procedures and whether the policy and procedures are appropriate to ensure the safety and rights of the public, specifically those targeted by the tactical unit. This requires that any member of the department being deposed or testifying in court must know the department's policy and procedure, applicable statutes, and other facts pertinent to the defense of a liability case. When establishing policy and procedures for tactical units and their operations, they should make sure to meet or exceed State standards for initial training, refresher training, the management of operations, fitness, safety, hostage negotiation, rescue, uniform requirements, weapons requirements, risk assessment, multijurisdictional operations, and after-action evaluations. Departmental representatives who provide depositions and testimony in a liability case must have direct knowledge of the relevant call-out records, search-warrant facts, the number of tactical team members present, the type of force used, the type of entry, etc. Reasons for the actions at issue must be based on the protection of team members and/or bystanders. In order to ensure that policies, procedures, and training are faithfully implemented and updated, regular audits of the entire tactical program should be conducted. Suggestions are offered for tactical-unit protocols that provide some protection against liability, such as obtaining a search warrant, engaging in "knock-notice" before using a forcible entry except under "exigent" circumstances, and avoiding excessive or unnecessary destruction of property in the course of a search.