Sunday, December 24, 2006

Threat is in Control

This is another concept that is hard for civilians to understand: the threat is in control of every aspect of a Use of Force. It seems counter-intuitive. On one side you have the police with belts full of weapons, radios, back up and, theoretically, the weight and influence of all of civilization behind them. On the other side, you have the threat. Sometimes armed, often not. Sometimes impaired with drugs or alcohol or mental illness. We see the disparity in power and even the disparity in judgment and assume the responsibility lies with the person in power. The smart one.

Aside: If you have two kids and one is bad please do not ever, ever turn to the older one and say, "Why didn't you stop your little brother?" or "How did you let this happen?" You can try to convince yourself until you are blue in the face that the smarter, more responsible child should have known better and should have intervened. But no matter what you say, you aren't punishing the responsible kid, you're punishing the good kid. And you aren't doing it because it's the right thing to do but because the good kid is easier to punish. Because the bad kid will argue or fight or challenge and the good kid will take it. It is an act of cowardice.

Okay, had to get that out of my system. Movin' on.

Fighting bad guys isn't like rolling with your buddies down at the dojo. Sometimes it's dangerous. It's usually messy and almost always stinks. The cops know that. Not one person I work with gets up in the morning and says "Hey, with any luck I'll get in a big fight with a crazy tweaker and his four friends! And they'll have oozing sores all over and ooooh, maybe it can happen in a shooting gallery with used hypodermic needles all over the place and puddles of urine! Whooo hoo!" Or "Damn, it's really hard to get vacation time in the summer. Hey, if I shoot someone, I get some days off for psych! Of course, I'll probably need the psych and my career and all my personal posessions will be on the line from the eventual lawsuit. There might be nightmares and stuff and I'll probably get divorced but I really want to go fishing this weekend."

The threat dictates the use of force. 'Threat' is one of those law enforcement euphemisms. Not to be judgmental, but the threat is the bad guy (BG) some times abbreviated to EBG for Evil Bad Guy.

So, the first element of a Use of Force: the BG makes it happen. I want to be left alone to eat donuts and talk to my friends all day. I wouldn't even be responding unless someone called me and said that there was an EBG up to something or I see the EBG being bad.

The next element is even easier- for the most part, unless it's really outrageous, all the BG has to do is STOP BEING BAD WHEN HE SEES A COP. Really, how hard is that? In the jail if I see someone breaking a rule, I catch the person's eye, maybe shake my head and he stops. If he doesn't stop, I'll have to do something. Usually talking is enough....

Even if the behavior is outrageous- hostages, assault, murder- the EBG stops being bad (drops the weapon, puts his hands up and complies with orders) and there's still no use of force. I'm not saying that there aren't bad guys who I've wanted to hurt, there have been. But the arrest, the paperwork, the likelihood of conviction all go easier without the force. Most officers are professional and won't give in to the anger.

Aside- You (civilian, officer, trainier) have to realize that time is a critical limiting factor. If the EBG is in the process of shooting someone there is no time for making eye contact or talking. I will tackle or shoot, depending on which I can do fastest. Presentation is another factor- someone screaming or ignoring you or being (or pretending to be) in a psychotic break can also remove the verbal skills from the table.

Simple as that: the BG chooses whether or not he will respond to the officer's presence or the officer's attempt to communicate. He also chooses if communication won't work. If the officer has a duty to act and communication won't work (or fails), the officer must use force. The force starts because the BG makes it start.

How much force is used? The minimum level the officer reasonably believes will safely end the situation. That's a complicated sentance and almost every word is a legal concept. It's a job, and force has to be used judiciously and with an eye to safety- if the officer uses too little force and gets injured or killed, he can't end the situation. He becomes a drain on resources. At the same time, the minimum level is always a guess. There's one "bad ass" in our system who is half a foot taller than me, maybe 100 pounds heavier and thrives on his reputaion for fighting and being crazy. In the middle of the night he covered his cell window (big no-no, usually the first step to a barricaded threat situation). I was alone, but I was tired and kind of tired of games. I opened the door and went in to his cell and tore the wet toilet paper off the window. This huge monster fighter the second I entered his cell curled up in a fetal position and started crying. Before this situation, if I'd intended to use force, it would have been pepper spray, several officers and probably impact weapons. There have also been little guys who fought until their hearts gave out, throwing multiple officers around.

Anyway, it's a guess and the threat supplies the clues. If he claims to be a multiple blackbelt or a SEAL, he gets hit harder. If he claims to be a peaceful protester but needs to be moved, fingerlocks or pepperspray (pain compliance tools that don't cause injury) are the preferred response. Most importantly, the threat decides if the level of force the officer is using is enough. If I put a fingerlock on a protester and it doesn't work, I'll have to use something else, something more. It escalates, but the threat dictates the escalation.

The last piece: when is the UofF over? When the threats decide it is. Here's a secret that applies to people and life and armies: people are almost never beaten- they give up. Except at the highest end uses of force, such as shooting, we (the officers) rarely beat anybody. Unless the brainstem is shut down or every long bone in the arms and legs is cleanly broken, people can keep fighting. Hugh Glass' 300 mile crawl after the grizzly mauling. Inmates punching with clearly broken hands. Attempted rape survivors who grabbed the blade of the knife and hung on to it while they kicked and scratched and screamed. Excited delerium cases where the threat fights off many many officers and keeps fighting until his heart gives out.

So the threat decides when he gives up. What level of force or pain he has to endure before he can allow himself to be handcuffed and still maintain his 'manly dignity'. That sounded flip, but some of the worst uses of force are from spoiled rich kids who think that they have the right to destroy or take anything they want and no one can tell them otherwise. Their parents always backed down so they expect everyone else to. Or from upstanding citizens who think that since they aren't real criminals (only drinking and driving or beating the wife that they own) and they fight as a matter of honor.

So, to sum up- if the threat decides when force is going to be used and how much force is going to be used and when it will stop...who's in charge?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

But - decisions are rational processes and those non-compliant folks are not in rational frames of mind. So we holler at them, try and reason with them or just beat the crap out of them (stopping when the threat is restrained, of course) until we win or they are forced into rationality. Might there be a way to get to them on the emotional level right off (like screaming and jumping up and down to scare off a bear) or bring them to a rational level (negotiations)? Of course, time, as have so eloquently written about numerous times, is also something the threat dictates.