Implications of Use-of-Force for the Future of Police Management


If current issues and trends that currently impinge on the use of force are anything to go by, police management in the future must likely concern itself with the comprehensive acquisition of less-lethal equipment, more (not less) racial tensions, sustained training in nonviolent self-defense/arrest, a continued influx of war veterans, multi-channel management of lethal-force publicity, a policy shift towards containment of armed suspects, and more predators on city streets owing to the prison crisis.

Less Lethal Weaponry

Research compiled by the National Institute of Justice and the Bureau of Justice Statistics (notably from the Police-Public Contact Survey) shows that less than one-fifth of contacts with the public resulting in adult arrests involved physical force, counting the use of handcuffs (Adams et. al., 1999). Even then, the police employed primarily weaponless tactics (grabbing or holding), which is consistent with the typically minor injuries reported by suspects. Counting all types of contacts surveyed by the PPCS, less than 1% involved even the threat of force.

Nonetheless, police management must still see to equipping officers for every contingency, no matter how rare. Since the introduction of conductive energy devices (i.e. the TASER), the Orange County Sheriff’s Office for one reports an 80% reduction in injuries to suspects (presumably with a proportionate slide in liabilities). After one fatality caused by electrocution in 2005, the Chicago Police Department prepared to deploy TASERS this month to every police officer on the beat, to tactical officers and special units like the Mobile Strike Force (Chicago Sun Times, 2010). This will be accomplished, of course, with federal assistance amounting to $513,000. At a time when both federal and state budgets are tight, it helps therefore that the more affordable Stinger S200 has come on the market. A third-party test conducted for the National Institute of Justice in 2007 and 2008 revealed that: a) For a small group of volunteers, the shock from the Stinger seemed less incapacitating, suggesting a lower risk of lethal injuries; b) Stinger barbs spread less and would therefore cluster around aim points better; c) On the other hand, TASER leads remained attached more securely to the barbs/electrodes and were less likely to tangle; d) The TASER had greater range and cartridges were more durable when dropped (Weapons & Equipment Research Institute, 2008).

Pursuit and Containment as Options

As the research, development, and evaluation arm of the Department of Justice, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) continually seeks “best-practices” that will serve the joint aims of public safety and law enforcement. In particular, NIJ prioritizes less-lethal technologies for handling individuals and crowds, as well as pursuit management techniques in the case of high-speed chases.

For police management, it is often a case of walking a fine line between protecting victims by suppressing armed suspects or imposing limitations on officer actions to avoid the public and media outcry about lethal use of force. After a year in which the number of fatal shootings had risen to 16 (from just 9 in 2008), the Los Angeles County Sheriff laid down new guidelines that officers should give up the chase sooner and request air, canine or other officer backup rather than suddenly have to engage in a shootout (Watkins, 2010). More seasoned department heads and officers realize, of course, that such restraint cannot apply when a drug-crazed suspect is indiscriminately shooting up a mall, for example. And victims who come to harm may well file suit against police officers for negligence.

Budget Pressures

Federal deficits will continue to mount, even after the nation has rounded the corner on the current recession. The reason is that starting in early 2008, the present administration has spent trillions of dollars in “stimulus” funds, emergency bailout, jobs creation, and other pump-priming activities. All these come on top of existing deficits. The spending cutbacks by California illustrate how government can bow, for one, to the overcrowding in correctional facilities. Without money to build more jails, the state has decided to let drug users go into therapy and other felons do community service instead of being jailed. Consequently, communities will be less safe than ever.

Other Considerations

We close this concededly brief section with two other phenomena that police management must confront and compensate for. The first is that minority populations will proliferate (relative to what used to be mainstream Whites), very likely in inner-city enclaves, and become more assertive of their rights. In the coming decade, Hispanics and African-Americans will comprise the majority of schoolchildren. Before 2050, the two ethnic groups combined will outnumber those of European descent.

Secondly, department heads need to scrutinize screening and mental health care afforded men returning from the two wars in the Middle East. Suspiciousness of civilians and the need to take quick action to ensure personal survival combine for rules of engagement far different from what is necessary for the streets of America’s cities. In 19 years, an entire generation of veterans have returned and many go on to become police officers.


Adams, K., Alpert, G. P., Dunham, R. G., Garner, J. H., Greenfeld, L. A. Henriquez, M. A., Langan, P. A., Maxwell, C. D., & Smith, S. K. (1999). Use of force by police: Overview of national and local data. Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice and Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Chicago Sun Times (2010). Every Chicago cruiser to come equipped with TASER – Chicago police officers will also get more less lethal training.

Office of Justice Programs (2008). OJP FOIA no. 08-00109. Web.

Watkins, T. (2010). Calif. officers get new rules for chasing armed offenders: Better to contain than attempt to detain without backup. The Associated Press.

Weapons & Equipment Research Institute (2008). A qualitative and quantitative analysis of conducted energy weapons: TASER X26 vs. Stinger S200. Fort Myers, FL: Florida Gulf Coast University.

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