Police departments’ policies should consistently emphasize that the sanctity of life is a central principle of policing. A commitment to using the least force necessary to achieve lawful objectives is a fundamental use of force restraint principle which departments should embrace as a best practice. Policies, reinforced by training for officers and supervisors, should both guide officers on what to do—including using alternatives to force when possible, exerting the minimum amount of force when force is needed, and continually seeking to de-escalate—as well as set out specific prohibitions consistent with the duty to protect all human life.
Policies and training practices should also emphasize that officers should resolve conflicts in a safe and humane manner and, where possible, redirect people facing mental illness, intense personal distress, or substance abuse to appropriate mental and behavioral health services instead of pushing them into the criminal justice system.
Use of Force
Department policies and training programs should specify that officers use only the minimal amount of force necessary to safely resolve an incident and that they should exhaust all alternatives, including providing a verbal warning when possible, before using deadly force. Officers should continually reassess the situation, recognizing that force may be appropriate at one moment but not seconds later due to changed dynamics.
Police departments should provide their officers with specific guidance as to the appropriate level of force based on the resistance encountered. Some departments have adopted a use of force continuum or matrix to help their training programs; these may be helpful, so long as they are used as training tools and instruct officers that these are critical decision-making guides, not rigid response requirements. Departments should emphasize scenario-based training.
Using chokeholds, strangleholds, or any other carotid restraints should be banned, unless deadly force is necessary. Certain other practices should be curtailed to ensure the sanctity of life. For example, policies should instruct officers not to shoot at or from moving vehicles except under extreme, life-threatening circumstances that are not avoidable. And unless a fleeing individual poses an immediate threat of death or serious physical injury to another person, deadly force should not be used.
Departments should require officers to report all uses of force and then analyze this information to determine whether there are patterns of excessive force or disparate uses of force against protected populations. Departments should incorporate that learning into their training programs and revise enforcement initiatives appropriately.
Duties to Intervene and Provide First Aid
As part of their duty to protect civilians, police officers should be required to intervene when they see a fellow officer using excessive force and attempt to prevent it. Clear policies and good training are essential, but officers can also play a vital role in ensuring that their fellow officers adhere to policies and show appropriate restraint. Departments should actively encourage such intervention, train officers on peer intervention, recognize officers who do intervene, and protect them from retaliation. Officers who intervene to stop misconduct are upholding the highest standards of policing.
Departments should also provide first aid training to their officers and require officers to provide first aid following uses of force, commensurate with their training and protecting the safety of the subject and their own safety. The duty to provide first aid should include requesting medical assistance without delay when there are visible injuries or complaints of injury.