Outdated use-of-force policies: Accidents waiting to happen

Terrence P. Dwyer, Esq.
for PoliceOne.com

While policy issues are not one of the more interesting topics cops want to sit through, experienced administrators know the importance of sound policy and implementation. Good policy and practice provides subsequent legal protection for the individual officer. However, the stark reality of use of force policy in 2010 America is that there are still many police departments operating from agency manuals drafted in the 1970s and 80s with inadequate deadly force guidance for officers.

This past October I had the distinct honor and privilege of lecturing at the Southern Police Institute, University of Louisville. The attendees, all mid- to upper-level police managers, were two-thirds of the way through the academically rigorous Administrative Officer’s Course. Two colleagues and I were invited to provide a three-and-one-half hour block of instruction on officer involved shootings. My presentation focused on the legal implications of department use of force policy.

When use-of-force policy is updated, it generally comes in the form of internal memorandums, directives, and regulations which are part of a larger hodge-podge assortment of other memorandums, directives, and regulations. These do not provide a centralized, cohesive statement of policy. From the knowing nods of the 50 or so attendees at the Louisville Metro PD Training Facility I could tell that many of these best and brightest among our nation’s police supervisors knew what I was talking about.

Their own experiences surely recalled agencies from their home states that were perfect examples of the proverbial “accident waiting to happen.”

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