The Use-of-Force Continuum

Most law enforcement agencies have policies that guide their use of force. These policies describe a escalating series of actions an officer may take to resolve a situation. This continuum generally has many levels, and officers are instructed to respond with a level of force appropriate to the situation at hand, acknowledging that the officer may move from one part of the continuum to another in a matter of seconds.

An example of a use-of-force continuum follows:

  • Officer Presence — No force is used. Considered the best way to resolve a situation.
    • The mere presence of a law enforcement officer works to deter crime or diffuse a situation.
    • Officers' attitudes are professional and nonthreatening.
  • Verbalization — Force is not-physical.
    • Officers issue calm, nonthreatening commands, such as "Let me see your identification and registration."
    • Officers may increase their volume and shorten commands in an attempt to gain compliance. Short commands might include "Stop," or "Don't move."
  • Empty-Hand Control — Officers use bodily force to gain control of a situation.
    • Soft technique. Officers use grabs, holds and joint locks to restrain an individual.
    • Hard technique. Officers use punches and kicks to restrain an individual.
  • Less-Lethal Methods — Officers use less-lethal technologies to gain control of a situation.
    (See Deciding When and How to Use Less-Lethal Devices. )
    • Blunt impact. Officers may use a baton or projectile to immobilize a combative person.
    • Chemical. Officers may use chemical sprays or projectiles embedded with chemicals to restrain an individual (e.g., pepper spray).
    • Conducted Energy Devices (CEDs). Officers may use CEDs to immobilize an individual. CEDs discharge a high-voltage, low-amperage jolt of electricity at a distance.
  • Lethal Force — Officers use lethal weapons to gain control of a situation. Should only be used if a suspect poses a serious threat to the officer or another individual.
    • Officers use deadly weapons such as firearms to stop an individual's actions.

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Date Created: August 4, 2009