Police misdemeanors and the amount of force they use while arresting a subject have increased public attention and scrutiny. For many years, law enforcement’s use of force has been controlled by the common law in the state. The United States Supreme Court destroyed a Tennessee statute that permitted the police officers to use all essential means to arrest an individual, forcibly restricting arrest or escaping in Tennessee versus Garner in 1985. Lethal force should not be used except if required to prevent an individual from escaping; the police officer has a reason to believe that the suspect is a significant threat of death or severe physical injury to the officer or other people (National Conference of State Legislatures, 2021). The common-law rule that permitted the use of whatever force necessary to arrest criminal fleeing was rejected in striking down the Tennessee statute. Additionally, local and state constitutions forbid using excessive force. More states have moved away from the common-law rule, and the police departments have enforced their use of force policies. Overall, many states have laws associated with the use of lethal force by law enforcement. Law enforcement can only legally use deadly force against an individual when a violent felony has been committed or a threat to human life.
The principle of necessity determines whether force should be used and how much it should be used. Enemark (2021) notes that the principle requires the law enforcement official in their duties to use non-violent means before reinstating to use the of firearms and force whenever possible. The law enforcement officers should only resort to using force and firearms only if other ways are not effective or do not promise to achieve the intended outcome. Also, the principle requires law enforcement officials to use force or firearms only for reasonable purposes of executing the law. The non-violent means that law enforcement officers should apply entails the police authority symbols such as a vehicle, uniform, or their presence; persuading an individual verbally such as pointing out the ineffectiveness of resistance; using body language such as intensifying eye contact with the person. The necessity for law enforcement officers to use force may decrease when preparing themselves with self—defense, including bulletproof means of transportation, bulletproof vests, helmets, and shields. Similarly, it is prohibited to use force as an extrajudicial punishment in a manner that discriminates against an individual; or uses it against a person who is not resisting. Also, the law officers should not use extra force should be used if the suspect is lawfully and safely arrested. For example, the killing of Gorge Floyd on May 25, 2020. The murder indicated police brutality and using force on an individual, posing no resistance to the arrest. It was also a discriminatory practice. Floyd died because he was a black man arrested by a white police officer, and this denied Floyd his constitutional civil rights at his arrest. In fact, the case showed that the police used additional force when it was not necessary; Floyd had been handcuffed and held on the ground. Overall, the use of force against individuals violates international law.
The principle of proportionality sets a standard on the amount of lawful force use following the threat an individual or group of persons poses and the wrongdoing that has been or is about to be committed. However, proportionality does not signify that the law officers should raise the use of force in phases (in exact accord with the use of force continuum). Neither does it mean responding to violence from a criminal suspect’s perspective. Newton (2018) reveals that the principle of proportionality forbids law enforcement officials from using force where the harm afflicted prevails over the advantages of using force, i.e., achieving the legitimate objective. Consequently, the principle demands the state obligations and its agents to confirm that the amount of force used and the impending harm it can result to must be directly proportional to the offense’s seriousness and the reasonable objective to be attained. For this reason, law officers are refrained from using force and ultimately accepting that the aim may not be reached. Basically, this principle simplifies that the end does not justify the means. On the same note, the principle of proportionality can only be applied if the necessity code is adhered to. Using force must be required in the situation, and the use of force must not be more than the reason to attain the objective of legitimate law enforcement. However, using the proportionality principle may turn the necessary into unlawful acts, i.e., using an electric-shock weapon like a Taser. For example, the 2016 Armstrong versus Village of Pinehurst court appeals changed the legal landscape governing officers’ use of a Taser. The case was against Pinehurst over killing a mentally ill man. This was following the resistance of Armstrong to comply with the instructions of the officer and was physically passive. The officer decided to use a Taser, having established Armstrong as a threat to himself. Tasing a non-criminal and mentally disturbed person immediately after being conversational is not a proportional response. Electric weapons are only proportional force when used while responding to a situation where the reasonable officer would notice the immediate danger that the use of a Taser could alleviate.
The principle of precaution reinforces the principle of proportionality and the principle of necessity. The principle of precaution bounds the state’s duty to plan law enforcement maneuvers to lessen the risk of having an alternative to possible lethal force by the law enforcement officers and agencies. According to Collinge’s (2019) study, the law prohibits law enforcement officers from using firearms against an individual, and they can only use them in self-defense or defense of any risks of serious injuries or death to any public member or law enforcement officer. Avoiding firearms and use of force diminishes the injury or damages, and it respects and preserves human life. Therefore, it is significant for law enforcement officials to assess the situations carefully to decide whether the violations could be prevented by implementing less harmful measures. On the same note, law enforcement officers must preserve life by ensuring that those individuals who are injured or affected are provided with medical aid or assistance as early as possible. The responsibility to help is applicable in situations where one is a suspected offender, or one is injured.
The state of Florida justifies law enforcement officials to use reasonable force when making arrests. The statutes allow the law enforcement officers or any individuals called by the officer or directed to help them, to restrain from retreating or desisting from attempts of making a legal arrest because of resisting or threatening to resist the arrest. In Florida, using excessive force by an officer leads to job termination, stripping of law enforcement credentials, and penalties. Florida and California state statutes justify reasonable use of force by the law enforcement officer when: there is a need of defending themselves or other people from bodily harm while arresting an individual, the criminal is fleeing from justice, and believes that the felon escaping is a threat to others and the officer. In Arizona states, if the police use excessive force, they can be accused in civil court. Arizona permits reasonable use of force choices such as using oleoresin capsicum (OC) aerosol chemical spray when the officer believes is in danger when approaching an aggressive subject. Empty hand control includes first strikes, knee strikes, control holds, and re-direction. Generally, reasonable force in these states is allowed only if other options are ineffective and do not promise the attainment of the intended outcome.
Overall, law enforcement officials’ use of force is necessary and allowed under particular situations. This includes defending other people or individuals or themselves. The force should only be used when intervening in an incident, making an arrest, or protecting others and themselves from harm. The amount of force used by police officers differs depending on the circumstances. The objective of law enforcement is to restore control while safeguarding the community as possible. Using force should be the last option, and only when necessary to restore safety. The police officers should ensure that the persons injured during the incidents of use of force receive medical assistance and their families informed. States such as Arizona, California, and Florida have established statutes that direct officers to use reasonable force and deadly weapons. Using excess force could lead to imprisonment, job termination, or penalties.
Collinge, D. (2019). The missing link: bringing United Nations’ protection of civilians mandates under the framework of international human rights law. Journal of International Peacekeeping, 23(1-2), 82-104.
Enemark, C. (2021). Armed drones and ethical policing: risk, perception, and the tele-present officer. Criminal Justice Ethics, 40(2), 124-144. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/0731129X.2021.1943844
National Conference of State Legislatures. (2021). Use of force standards. NCSL. https://www.ncsl.org/research/civil-and-criminal-justice/use-of-force-standards.aspx
Newton, S. (2018). The excessive use of force against blacks in the United States of America. The International Journal of Human Rights, 22(8), 1067-1086.