The dilemma of the use of force is not uncommon for the police of the US and all over the world, and yet there are no universal guidelines for this aspect of law enforcement activities guidance (National Institute of Justice, 2015). The analysis of existing policies and guidelines can provide insights into their applicability. In this paper, the policy (or policies) of the New Jersey Attorney General is evaluated to determine its legal sufficiency. Its strengths and weaknesses are also considered, and suggestions for its improvement are presented. It is argued that the New Jersey Attorney General’s use of force policy is based on the practice of policing and is continuously updated, which suggests that the imperfections that it might have are going to be eliminated in the future and highlights the importance of timely modernization for policies.
In New Jersey, the Attorney Generals’ use of force guidelines includes several documents. The primary one, the Attorney General’s Use of Force Policy (2000) was created in 1985 and revised in 2000. The Office of the Attorney General (2008; 2010) also provides supplemental policies for conducted energy devices (CED) and less-than-lethal ammunition (LLA) together with some other materials that include, for example, the approved list of less-lethal ammunition or directives for further improvements. Finally, Attorney General’s website provides various forms to be used for reporting (Attorney General Guidelines, n.d.).
The goal of the policy is clearly stated in the primary document: it consists of “properly guiding the use of force by the police” (Attorney General’s Use of Force Policy, 2000, p. 1). The definitions include a constructive authority (the use of the officer’s authority without physical contact, for example, weapon upholstering), physical contact, physical force, mechanical force (that includes canine contact), and deadly force (that has the potential of killing). This classification is more detailed than that by the National Institute of Justice (2015), but it also unites lethal and less than lethal weapons in one category. Other terms (for example, “imminent danger”) are defined as well.
The use of force is governed by one principle: avoid using it unless you need to overcome resistance, protect people or property, or reach another lawful objective that cannot be attained without force. The use of deadly force, however, is described in greater detail and with greater restrictions.
The policy requires proper documented semiannual training on the use of force. Also, the law enforcement officers of New Jersey are instructed to prevent or stop unlawful use of force by their colleagues. Similarly, the officers who had needed to use force must provide all the necessary reports. The county prosecutor and the Division of Criminal Justice are expected to be informed about any case of use of force that leads to death or serious injury; if deadly force was used, the degree of injury is irrelevant. Also, annual reports on all use of force except constructive authority are gathered by these supervisors.
The policy is being continually updated. For example, in 2014, the Office of the Attorney General (2014) provided new guidelines for the certification of CEDs. Also, the supplemental policies that provide the details for the use of CEDs, LLA have been updated to take into account the suggestions of law enforcement professionals (Office of the Attorney General, 2010, p. 1). Thus, the practice of applying the use of force guidelines in New Jersey found its way into the policy.
The policy indicates that CEDs (weapons using electrical charge/current) can be used to prevent escape or death or serious injury. As for Dallas, they are designed to be less lethal, but there is a chance of causing injury or death through their use. As a result, LLAs can be employed only when necessary by a trained officer with an express signed authorization. However, the officer does not have to exhaust this option before resorting to deadly force in case the circumstances require it. The policy also dwells on approved ammunition, apparently trying to avoid the issue of non-lethal weaponry that contradicts international law and can be deemed unethical (Koplow, 2015). To sum up, the policy is comprehensive and appears to be in line with the law, common sense, and modern understanding of ethics.
There is no universal set of rules on how to use force, which is why states and individual agencies tend to develop their policies and guidance (National Institute of Justice, 2015). The presented policy does not presuppose law violations; an example of this fact includes the requirements for the approved types of LLA. From the point of view of the language, all the terms (including those that might be deemed ambiguous, for example, “reasonable” or “imminent danger”) are provided with clear, concise definitions. The layout of the policy is logical; the headings correspond to the content. All the necessary report forms are provided. To sum up, the policy is a set of coherent documents that are devoid of ambiguity and do not contradict the legislation. It can be considered legally sufficient.
Strengths and Weaknesses
The strengths of the policy include the existence of supplementary documents that address the issues which have proven to be of particular importance and use in reducing injury rate (MacDonald, Kaminski, & Smith, 2009); the continuous update, and the fact that the modifications are based on the suggestions of the people who are directly involved in policing. The first aspect ensures the policy’s comprehensiveness and the rest promise that it will proceed to develop and adjust to the needs of New Jersey.
However, a couple of issues could be noted as well. The fact that the primary document was last reviewed in 2000. As a result, the definitions presented in it appear to have several inconsistencies. For example, CEDs that have a separate policy statement are not mentioned in the primary document. Also, the constructive authority and deadly force stand out from the point of view of restrictions, which justifies this distinction, but physical and mechanical forces are never separated. At the same time, LLAs are considered a part of the deadly force (which is justifiable) but still require a separate supplementary policy. To sum up, there are noticeable inconsistencies between the number of terms and their use in the 2000 Policy, and, therefore, it might be suggested that it needs to be reviewed. Possibly, modifications would be deemed excessive, as it may be implied that the complementary documents are enough. However, if the changes are carried out, they will make the policy more consistent, help to avoid unnecessary complexity, and mention all the necessary aspects of the use of force.
The analysis of the New Jersey Use of Force Policy allows making several conclusions about it and policy-making in general. It can be argued that the policy is strong, thoughtful, well-developed, and comprehensive. Moreover, it has the potential for further development that is promised by the positive experience of using the practice of policing to form policies. The need for constant updating and upgrading is also proved by the weaknesses of the documents: it seems that the initial policy is relatively outdated, and its definitions are not updated. In general, the example of the New Jersey Use of Force Policy appears to demonstrate the significance of being flexible, evidence-based, and up-to-date for a policy.
Attorney General Guidelines. (n.d.). Web.
Attorney General’s Use of Force Policy. (2000). Web.
Koplow, D. A. (2015). Red-Teaming NLW: A Top Ten List of Criticisms about Non-Lethal Weapons. Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law, 47, 229-238.
MacDonald, J., Kaminski, R., & Smith, M. (2009). The Effect of Less-Lethal Weapons on Injuries in Police Use-of-Force Events. Am J Public Health, 99(12), 2268-2274. Web.
National Institute of Justice. (2015). Police Use of Force. Web.
Office of the Attorney General. (2008). Supplemental Policy on Less-Lethal Ammunition. Web.
Office of the Attorney General. (2010). Revised Supplemental Policy on Conducted Energy Devices (approved and effective October 7, 2010). Web.
Office of the Attorney General. (2014). Memorandum. Web.