Statistics by the United States department of justice conducted over a period of ten years indicate that about 1 police officer is killed in the line of duty in every five days; this is in addition to assaults. Hundreds of cases go either reported or unreported regarding the use of unreasonable force or what the media have christened police brutality. Many people have admitted to living in the fear of police officers and most often than not would rather see a crime go unreported rather than come to terms with the prospects of coming face to face with a police officer.
To them, the police force just comprises of a bunch of unreasonably brutal individuals. These two illustrations are just meant to indicate the nature of the working conditions the police officers have to contend with in carrying out their duties. This kind of environment requires the officers to employ the use of force to ensure compliance, self-defense and persuasion. This is an accepted fact, although some of the methods employed are legally questionable (Howard Ralitz, 2003).
The stand of the law regarding the use of force by police centers on the objectiveness and reasonableness of such acts. It prohibits recklessness and malice in police officers. However, problem comes in the proper definition and measure of what can be considered as reasonable, as there is no universally accepted measure and as seen in legal cases, different courts ascribe varied meanings to these terms. Others would even go further and label the mere vicinity of a police officer as a form of intimidation.
The use of force matrix is just but broad guidelines on the reasonable force that can be applied in the process of discharging police officers’ duties. The basic assumption is that it will take a reasonable police officer to know the reasonable amount of force to be applied in a specific case. In the United States it is mandatory that police officers undergo a training that is in line with the provisions of the department On Police Safety Standards and Training (OPSST), which posits that law enforcers apply only the minimum possible force in fulfilling their duties (Dan M., 2004).
The matrix allows for force to be applied in a number of levels in a continuum. As mentioned before, the mere presence of law enforcement officers can be interpreted by many as a form of coercion. This is the first step in the application of force. It is also the most applied. The presence of a police officer may act as a form of deterrence to any potential criminals or lawbreakers. The second level is the use of verbal commands. This would range from interrogation and the mere act of persuading or ordering a person to do something.
This too can be regarded to as the use of force as it means that the subject is being expected to do something that under the usual circumstance he or she would not have done. The next level is physical contact. This is the most complained about and includes the coming into contact of a law enforcement officer with a subject. The various methods may range from escort hold, pressure or any other method that involves applying physical manipulations.
At the extreme end the use of force would include the use of chemicals, weapons and application of a force that is deadly or injurious to a subject. Use of force is dictated directly by the amount of real or perceived threat. This threat is as a result of three components that would range from purpose, way and means as well as a likelihood of the threat being actualized. In the application of force, the officers must consider and assess whether it is prudent to apply such kind of force and whether application of such force will accomplish the expected goal.
This is the justification behind the use of force. Police officers in their work face a lot of risks due to the unpredictability of their working environment. They are supposed to make decisions in a split of a second. Good training notwithstanding, it is possible to exceed the force beyond an acceptable limit. In assessing whether a police officer has exceeded reasonable force, a court usually has to take into account the prevailing conditions and the course of action that would have been taken by a reasonable person under the same circumstances.