Determining what is reasonable use of force by the police is highly subjective

Dear Editor,

The debate on the recent fatal shooting of five bandits by the police at Pattensen, East Coast, Demerara rages. The vexed question is: Should the police have taken the scoundrels alive or dead? Damned if they do, damned if they don’t. Please permit me to join in the confabulation and repeat some apposite issues I discussed in a previous letter to the editor in relation to the use of force. I will not be able to cover several elements of the use of force including deadly force because of the constraint of space.

I must admit that I do not know all the facts in issue or facts relevant to the shooting. Therefore, I would be considered flippant if I attempt to pass judgement on the shooting by police one way or the other.

The International Association of Chiefs of Police believes that, “A police officer must never employ unnecessary force or violence and will use only such force in the discharge of duty as is reasonable in all circumstances.

“Force must be used only in the greatest restraint and only after discussion, negotiation and persuasion have found to be inappropriate or ineffective. While the use of force is occasionally unavoidable, every police officer will refrain from applying the unnecessary inflection of pain or suffering and will never engage in cruel, degrading or inhumane treatment to anyone. “

Guyana Police Force Orders 33/69 outline When You May Fire as it relates to the use of firearms by members of the force: (a) When you are attacked and you apprehend serious danger to your person and are unable to defend yourself by any other means; (b) When property you are ordered to defend is attacked and you are unable to safeguard it by any other means; (C) When an attack is made to rescue persons in lawful custody; (d) When someone is found committing or being about to commit a felony eg murder, dangerous violence to the person, robbery, burglary, house breaking, store breaking, arson or larceny and does not desist after warning and cannot be deterred or arrested by any other means; (e) To prevent a police station or police outpost from being overrun; (f) When so ordered by a superior in rank.

The use of force including excessive force has always been difficult if not controversial at times. It is on occasions a necessary tool of the job of law enforcement, but determining what is reasonable is highly subjective. Graham v Connor appears to be the landmark case in the use of force. The Court held, “The calculus of reasonableness must embody allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second judgement in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving-about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation.” Nowicki explains, “The standard according to this decision, is the ‘ reasonable objective officer. ‘ “

Several types of force option continuum exist. The Federal Law Enforcement Training Centre (USA) model can be very instructive. It 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 subject does not follow the officer’s commands. Force options here including directing or guiding the subject through hands-on techniques. Level three is the Resistive (Active) Level, which occurs when the subject actively resists arrest. Level Three force options include joint manipulation or restraints, leverages techniques, pressure points or even OC (pepper) spray with a warning given under proper circumstances. Level Four is Assaultive (bodily harm ) Level, a direct physical attack on the officer or others. Appropriate force options at this level includes strike with the hands, fists, elbows or knees; kicks; baton strikes; and forcefully directing the subject to the ground. Level Five is the Assaultive (serious bodily harm  or death ) Level, where the appropriate response would be deadly.

Many times the police are left in a quandary in relation to the use of force. Death lurks around the next corner. To use or not use force including deadly force regularly come into play. Based on their training policemen are not expected to be pusillanimous, but rather they are required to act correctly and decisively in those law enforcement situations.

Use of force expert Nowicki (2002) 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 as when you went to work: ALIVE. Rule number two is that you don’t go to prison. Rule number three is that you keep your job. If your use of force is reasonable, you protect yourself, your agency, the community and even the assailant. But when in doubt, always remember rule number one.”

Yours faithfully,

Clinton Conway

Assistant Commissioner of Police


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