It is important for applicants for entry level law enforcement positions to understand the concept and issues surrounding what we call, "Force Continuum." Here is a summary that will help you prepare for the police oral boards or job interview.
Always remember the level of force in your response is dictated by the situation. Police officers use the force continuum, a scale of force alternatives, to mediate the level of response used in a given situation.
The force continuum is broken down into six broad levels. Each level is designed to be flexible as the need for force changes as the situation develops. It is common for the level of force to go from level two, to level three, and back again in a matter of seconds.
Level 1 - Officer Presence
The mere presence of a police officer in uniform or in a marked police unit is often enough to stop a crime in progress or prevent most situations from escalating. Without saying a word, the mere presence of a police officer can deter crime by the simple use of body language and gestures. At this level gestures should be non-threatening and professional. This "zero" level of force is always the best way to resolve any situation if possible.
Level 2 - Verbal Commands
Used in combination with a visible presence, the use of the voice can usually achieve the desired results. Whether you say, "Stop.", "Don't Move.", "Be quiet.", "Listen to me.", "Let me see your ID.", or, "You're under arrest."-- voice commands in conjunction with your mere presence will almost always resolve the situation.
The content of the message is as important as your demeanor. It’s always best to start out calm but firm and non-threatening. Your choice of words and intensity can be increased as necessary, or used in short commands in more serious situations.
The right combination of words in combination with officer presence can de-escalate a tense situation and prevent the need for a physical altercation. Training and experience improves the ability of a police officer to communicate effectively with everyone he/she comes in contact with.
Level 3 - Empty Hand Control
Certain situations will arise where words alone will not reduce the aggression. This is the time police officers will need to get involved physically. This is a level of control employed by police officers minus the aid of equipment or weapons. There are two subcategories called, “soft empty hand techniques” and “hard empty hand techniques.”
Soft Empty Hand Techniques
At this level minimal force would involve the use of bare hands to guide, hold, and restrain -- applying pressure points, and take down techniques that have a minimal chance of injury.
Hard Empty Hand Techniques
At this level the use of force includes kicks, punches or other striking techniques such as the brachial stun or other strikes to key motor points that have a moderate chance of injury.
Level 4 - Pepper Spray, Baton, Taser
When the suspect is violent or threatening, more extreme, but non-deadly measures must be used to bring the suspect under control, or affect an arrest. Before moving to this level of force, it is assumed that less physical measures have already been tried.
Pepper spray results in considerable tearing of the eyes, as well as temporary paralysis of the larynx, which causes subjects to lose their breath. Contact with the face causes a strong burning sensation. Pepper spray, once thought an effective street tool for police officers has lost popularity over the years because of its ineffectiveness, especially on intoxicated persons.
The typical baton is a round stick of various lengths, and is made of hardwood, aluminum or plastic composite materials. A blow with a baton can immobilize a combative person, allowing officers to affect an arrest.
Of all the options available at this level, the Taser, in my opinion, is the most effective. The Taser discharges a high voltage spark (50,000 volts) at very low amperage. The Taser fires two small darts, connected to wires, which drops a suspect at non-contact distance. These devices are easily carried. They are lightweight and affordable. Extensive training is not required, and they may be more effective on persons under the influence of PCP and other drugs who do not respond to chemical irritants. They can be especially useful for controlling non-criminal violent behavior, such as persons who are mentally impaired, or under the influence of mind-altering substances.
Level 5 - Less Lethal
This is a newer, acceptable and effective level of force that numerous police agencies have added to their use of force continuum policy and procedure. Less-lethal weapons were developed to provide law enforcement, military and corrections personnel with an alternative to lethal force. They were designed to temporarily incapacitate, confuse, delay, or restrain an adversary in a variety of situations. They have been used in riots, prison disturbances, and hostage rescues. Less-lethal weapons are valuable when: (a) lethal force is not appropriate, (b) lethal force is available as backup but lesser force may subdue the aggressor, (c) lethal force is justified but its use could cause serious collateral effects, such as injury to bystanders or damage to the environment.
Level 6 - Deadly Force
If a police peace officer has probable cause to believe that a suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others, then the use of deadly force is justified. It is obvious from all of the news about misuse of power by law enforcement, that this is easier said than done.
By the very nature of the profession, peace officers may at times be confronted with a potentially lethal threat. In most of these instances, peace officers will have no other option but to discharge their firearm in order to protect their life or the lives of others.
The use of force is an integral part of a law enforcement officer's job, particularly when arresting criminal suspects. No one disputes that police should be permitted to protect themselves and others from threats to safety, but what is often disputed is an officer's assessment of a threat and the level of force selected to counter it. As a general principle, the level of force used should be tailored to the nature of the threat that prompted its use.
Applicants for entry-level law enforcement positions should learn all they can about the Force Continuum before they interview for the job.