On Thursday, March 15, there was an exchange of gunfire between the police and suspected bandits at the Georgetown Seawall. Three persons including two who were on the police radar died. Since then there have been conflicting reports in the media and elsewhere as to what actually took place. Some relatives of the dead men are perturbed over the whole issue and are seeking justice outside of the police environment. The debate on the use of force including deadly force rages. I am not au fait with all the facts in relation to the shooting, therefore I cannot say if the action of the police was justified or not. Let me be pellucid. I hold no brief for anyone. I have an abiding interest in law enforcement. Hence, my regular letters to the editor.
As a retired senior police officer I am aware that the work of the police is a dangerous one and can be thankless at times. Sometimes the police are left in a quandary. Damned if they do and damned if they don’t.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police sets the following guidelines for police officers: “A police officer will never employ unnecessary force or violence and will only use such force in the discharge of duty as is reasonable in all circumstances. Force should be used only with the greatest restraint and only after discussion, negotiation and persuasion have been found to be inappropriate or ineffective. While the use of force is occasionally unavoidable, every police officer will refrain from applying the necessary infliction of pain and suffering and will never engage in cruel, degrading or inhuman treatment to any person.”
The job of the police is not an easy one. Death lurks around the next corner. I can recall during 1996 I chaired the closing session for a course for police sergeants at Police Headquarters. Commissioner of Police Laurie Lewis delivered the closing address. Among the things he mentioned was that when a policeman leaves his home to go on duty he does not know if he will return home alive. Six hours later bandits riddled Constable 16418 Adrian Williams called ‘Big Six’ with bullets not far from the East La Penitence Police Outpost. He died on the spot. He was the only child for his mother who had passed child-bearing age. I subsequently asked Commissioner Lewis not to utter those words again. During the last crime wave 2002-08 which has been described as ‘The Troubles’ a total of 26 policemen were killed. Top Cop Floyd McDonald had the sad task of constantly attending funerals and paying tributes to his fallen heroes rather than giving out awards.
The use of excessive force has always been difficult. The use of force including deadly force is sometimes a necessary part of the job, but determining what is reasonable is highly subjective. In the landmark case in relation to the use of force, Graham v Conner (1989) the court held that the calculus of reasonableness must allow for the fact that the police are often forced to make split-second judgements in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and are rapidly evolving about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation.
According to Nowicki, “The standard according to this decision, is the ‘reasonable objective officer.’”
The Federal Law Enforcement Training Centre (FLETC) Use Of Force Model has five levels. Level One is the Compliant Level where no use of force is usually reasonable. Level Two is the Resistive (Passive) Level where the suspect does not follow the officers’ commands. Force options here include guiding or directing the subject through hands-on techniques. Level Three is the Resistive (Active) Level, which occurs when a suspect actively resists arrest. Level Three force options include manipulation or restraints, leverage techniques, pressure points or even OC (pepper) spray, with a warning given under proper circumstances. Level Four is the Assaultive (bodily harm) Level, a direct physical attack on an officer or others. Appropriate force options at this level include strikes with hands, fists, elbows or knees; baton strikes; and forcefully directing the subject to the ground. Level Five is Assaultive (serious bodily harm or death) Level, where the appropriate response would be deadly force.
Nowicki who is a use-of-force expert posits, “There are three rules relating to the use of force by any officer. Rule number one is that you go home the same way when you went to work: Alive. Rule number two is you don’t go to prison. Rule number three is you keep your job. If your use of force is reasonable, you protect yourself, your agency, the community and even your assailant. But when in doubt, always remember rule number one.”
Assistant Commissioner of Police (Ret’d)