UNITED STATES CONFERENCE OF MAYORS REPORT ON POLICE REFORM AND RACIAL JUSTICE

Sanctity of Life

At the core of a police officer’s responsibilities is the duty to protect all human life and physical safety. To ingrain this fundamental principle, use of force policies must clearly state this requirement, with specificity, and require officers to intervene when a fellow officer is using disproportionate or unnecessary force.

As is often stated, just because one can use force, does not mean that it should be used. It is critical that we ensure that officers are properly trained to value the sanctity of life and only use the minimum amount of force necessary, if any, to accomplish lawful objectives.

Officers must have the tools and judgment to differentiate circumstances that do not warrant the use of force. Use of force policies and training must also include, but not be limited to: bans on chokeholds or any other carotid restraints; de-escalation and critical incident training; peer intervention to prevent misconduct; bans on shooting at moving vehicles except under extreme circumstances where a life is at risk; limitations on car pursuits to avoid death or great bodily harm; and defined parameters for foot pursuits, among other things.

Emphasizing the Sanctity of Life

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.[15]

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.[16] 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.[17]  Departments should emphasize scenario-based training.

Using chokeholds, strangleholds, or any other carotid restraints should be banned, unless deadly force is necessary.[18]  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.[19]  And unless a fleeing individual poses an immediate threat of death or serious physical injury to another person, deadly force should not be used.[20]

Departments should require officers to report all uses of force[21] 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.[22]  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.[23]

De-Escalation

Police officers should avoid uses of force in the first instance wherever possible. Thus, they should be required to employ de-escalation techniques, such as using verbal persuasion and warnings, tactical repositioning, time, distance, and requesting additional personnel.[24]  Departments should consider having policies on de-escalation, separate and apart from their use of force policies to further underscore that a use of force is not always necessary.

To help officers learn de-escalation techniques, departments should provide realistic, scenario-based training on how to apply de-escalation techniques to real-life encounters. For example, the Baltimore Police Department uses the Police Executive Research Forum’s Integrating Communications, Assessment, and Tactics training materials.[25]  These techniques can be critical for responding successfully to
calls involving people in mental distress.

We cannot emphasize enough how important it is for cities to invest in de-escalation training. Training is often the first thing to go when budgets are cut, but it can reduce costs, judgments, and settlements down the road when done correctly.

Crisis Intervention

Law enforcement remains the de facto system for responding to crisis situations, placing police departments under immense pressure to address some of society’s most daunting challenges,[26] including responding to persons suffering from mental illness, behavioral health issues, disabilities, substance abuse, domestic abuse, and intense personal distress.

As we identified in our discussion of Redefining the Role of the Police above, law enforcement officers are often not the best first responders for individuals in emotional distress. In cities that have mental health specialists or medics, emergency dispatchers should, where appropriate, call upon them to respond first—or to help police respond—to crisis situations.[27]  Departments should also work collaboratively with community-based crisis intervention programs that do not involve police.[28]

Police training should include crisis intervention training both as part of basic training for new recruits and regular refresher courses for all officers. Importantly, such training should incorporate the input of mental health professionals and advocates as well as interactions with persons with mental illness and other disabilities, and active participation in mental health response scenarios. Crisis intervention training can help cultivate officers’ knowledge, empathy, and practical experience with respect to individuals facing mental health and other challenges.[29]  By integrating techniques for crisis response with tactical training, departments can improve officer and citizen safety, ensuring that officer interactions with individuals in crisis are conducted humanely and consistent with best practices.[30]

Many police departments look to Memphis’s nationally recognized Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Model for best practices on crisis intervention training. Under the Memphis CIT Model, departments offer in-depth, 40 hour, CIT certification courses to officers on a voluntary basis.[31]  Short of providing a full 40-hour training to all officers, departments should consider how to include key aspects of CIT training in the regular training curriculum for new recruits, veteran officers, and supervisors alike.

CIT courses should also be made available to 911 call-takers and dispatchers, ensuring that 911 personnel receive thorough, hands-on training to support the police response to crisis incidents. Where possible, dispatchers should direct calls for assistance to the CIT-trained officers, and other officers should be trained to defer to their colleagues on the scene with CIT training.

Mayors should ensure that there is coordination among police departments and other government and private sector organizations on assessments of the mental health systems in place to identify strengths and gaps in community resources or support. These assessments should include collecting and publishing data on the number and types of incidents involving individuals in crisis. Through substantive training, data collection, and partnerships with local organizations and mental health advocates, departments can help implement community-based responses to individuals in crisis that are both compassionate and safe and reduce the burden on departments that often, right now, are the first and only call in responding to crises in which others should be among the first responders.

[15]       See also Section III, infra.
[16]       See, e.g., Baltimore Police Department, Policy 1115: Use of Force, at 1 (Nov. 24, 2019), https://www.baltimorepolice.org/1115-use-force.
[17]       See, e.g., Seattle Police Department, Manual, Section 8.200: Use of Force (June 19, 2020), https://www.seattle.gov/police-manual/title-8—use-of-force/8200—using-force; id. Section 8.300: Use of Force Tools (June 19, 2020), https://www.seattle.gov/police-manual/title-8—use-of-force/8300—use-of-force-tools; New Orleans Police Department, Operations Manual, Chapter 1.3, at 10.
[18]       See, e.g., Baltimore Police Department, Policy 1115: Use of Force, at 2 (Nov. 24, 2019), https://www.baltimorepolice.org/1115-use-force; Chicago Police Department, General Order G03-02: Use of Force, at Section III.C.1.d (Feb. 29, 2020), http://directives.chicagopolice.org/directives/data/a7a57be2-128ff3f0-ae912-8fff-44306f3da7b28a19.html.
[19]       See, e.g., Baltimore Police Department, Policy 1115: Use of Force, at 9 (Nov. 24, 2019), https://www.baltimorepolice.org/1115-use-force; Philadelphia Police Department, Directive 10.1: Use of Force –Involving the Discharge of a Firearm, at 6 (updated Jan. 30, 2017), https://www.phillypolice.com/assets/directives/D10.1.pdf.
[20]       See, e.g., Baltimore Police Department, Policy 1115: Use of Force, at 8 (Nov. 24, 2019), https://www.baltimorepolice.org/1115-use-force; Philadelphia Police Department, Directive 10.1: Use of Force – Involving the Discharge of a Firearm, at 6 (updated Jan. 30, 2017), https://www.phillypolice.com/assets/directives/D10.1.pdf.
[21]       See, e.g., Baltimore Police Department, Policy 1115: Use of Force, at 1 (Nov. 24, 2019), https://www.baltimorepolice.org/1115-use-force; Baltimore Police Department, Policy 725: Use of Force Reporting, Review, and Assessment (Nov. 24, 2019), https://www.baltimorepolice.org/725-use-force-review-and-assessment.
[22]       Baltimore Police Department, Policy 1115: Use of Force, at 2 (Nov. 24, 2019), https://www.baltimorepolice.org/1115-use-force; Chicago Police Department, General Order G03-02: Use of Force, at Section V (Feb. 29, 2020), http://directives.chicagopolice.org/directives/data/a7a57be2-128ff3f0-ae912-8fff-44306f3da7b28a19.html; New Orleans Police Department, Operations Manual, Chapter 1.3: Use of Force, at 10.
[23]       See, e.g., New Orleans Police Department, Operations Manual, Chapter 1.3: Use of Force, at 6; Baltimore Police Department, Policy 1115: Use of Force, at 2 (Nov. 24, 2019), https://www.baltimorepolice.org/1115-use-force.
[24]       See, e.g., Baltimore Police Department, Policy 1115: Use of Force, at 2 (Nov. 24, 2019), https://www.baltimorepolice.org/1115-use-force; Chicago Police Department, General Order G03-02: Use of Force (Feb. 29, 2020), http://directives.chicagopolice.org/directives/data/a7a57be2-128ff3f0-ae912-8fff-44306f3da7b28a19.html; Seattle Police Department, Manual, Section 8.100: De-Escalation (Sept. 15, 2019), https://www.seattle.gov/police-manual/title-8—use-of-force/8100—de-escalation; see also Baltimore Police Department, Policy 1107: De-Escalation (Nov. 24, 2019), https://www.baltimorepolice.org/1107-de-escalation.
[25]       Police Executive Research Forum, Integrating Communications, Assessment, and Tactics: A Training Guide for Defusing Critical Incidents (Oct. 2016), https://www.policeforum.org/assets/icattrainingguide.pdf.
[26]       See, e.g., National Association of Counties, “Blueprint for Success: The Bexar County Model,” at 4 (“The American Jail Association estimates that more than 650,000 bookings each year involve persons with mental illness. This translates into at least 16-25% of the national jail population. A vast majority of these mentally ill inmates are arrested for simple bizarre behavior or non violent minor crimes, and yet they spend an average of 15 months longer in jail for the same charges as non mentally ill prisoners.”), https://www.naco.org/sites/default/files/documents/Bexar-County-Model-report.pdf.
[27]       See, e.g., White Bird Clinic, “CAHOOTS,” https://whitebirdclinic.org/cahoots/; Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, National Guidelines for Behavioral Health Crisis Care: Best Practice Toolkit, at 18–21 (2020) (“Community-based mobile crisis services use face-to-face professional and peer intervention, deployed in real time to the location of the person in crisis in order to achieve the needed and best outcomes for that individual.”), https://www.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/national-guidelines-for-behavioral-health-crisis-care-02242020.pdf.
[28]       See, e.g., CIT International, Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Programs: A Best Practice Guide for Transforming Community Responses to Mental Health Crises, at 3 (Aug. 2019) (“A CIT program should help people get connected to treatment and services and offer hope for recovery. That can only be accomplished when law enforcement agencies build relationships with mental health professionals and agencies and work with advocates to fight for a better mental health system.”), http://www.citinternational.org/resources/Best%20Practice%20Guide/CIT%20guide%20desktop%20printing%202019_08_16%20(1).pdf.
[29]       See, e.g., id. at 121–150.
[30]       See, e.g., Police Executive Research Forum, Guiding Principles on Use of Force, at 9–10, 57–61 (2016), https://www.policeforum.org/assets/guidingprinciples1.pdf; id. at 9 (“Often, police academies begin with training officers on the mechanics of using firearms, and the legal issues governing use of force, de-escalation and crisis intervention strategies, and other related topics are not covered until weeks later, usually in separate sessions. PERF has called for integrated training that combines these related topics in scenario-based sessions. Officers should be trained to consider all of their options in realistic exercises that mirror the types of incidents they will encounter, such as persons with a mental illness behaving erratically or dangerously on the street.”).
[31]       See, e.g., CIT International, Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Programs: A Best Practice Guide for Transforming Community Responses to Mental Health Crises, at 163 (Aug. 2019) (“The train-all approach, while driven by an admiration for CIT, can be quite damaging to your CIT program. Here’s why: research shows that officers who volunteer for the training learn and perform better. Researchers looked at officers’ knowledge, skills, attitudes, self-confidence in dealing with crisis situations, use of de-escalation, and use of force—and found that volunteers performed better across the board.”), http://www.citinternational.org/resources/Best%20Practice%20Guide/CIT%20guide%20desktop%20printing%202019_08_16%20(1).pdf.

Report on Police Reform and Racial Justice

Back to Home Page

Our Recommendations