By Chip DeBlock
I recently penned a controversial article titled “Fat and Out-Of-Shape Cops: The Truth Hurts” that produced a lot of comments. Although controversial, I feel the story was well researched and spot on. My hope is that you’ll find this piece no different.
Every law enforcement officer (LEO) should know what a Use of Force matrix or continuum is. It is essentially a set of guidelines for how LEOs are to use any amount of force, from the least to the greatest. Over the years I have seen a growing trend and the writing on the wall, officers who accelerate (increase) their use of force because they are unfit or out-of-shape can be held legally liable for their actions (and their department as well).
In The Police Chief magazine it was cited that “by implementing an exercise program, agencies also reduce their liability by ensuring that officers are prepared to handle tasks while controlling the possible risks and their associated costs”.1 If you are still in doubt, you won’t be for long. In as early as 1982 a D.C. Metropolitan police officer was accused of using excessive force in order to arrest a subject. In Parker v. District of Columbia “the officer’s lack of physical fitness and inability to use defensive tactics or lesslethal options resulted in his discharging his firearm, rendering the suspect a paraplegic”.1 Although the officer was eventually dropped from the lawsuit, his department “was found to be deliberately indifferent to the physical training needs of its officers, and the plaintiff was awarded a substantial sum of money”.1 In 2001 a Martinez (California) police officer was accused of shooting a subject in the back because he was in too poor of physical condition to pursue him (David Hutton v. City of Martinez2). Even though the officer had surgery after the incident and eventually took a disability retirement, the court forced the release of his medical records and worker’s compensation file. In 2004 the parties agreed to a settlement and the case was dismissed.
As LEOs we’re not trained or expected to meet criminals on a level playing field. If a bad guy wants to fight with you, you’re not required to get into a fist fight with him. Your Use of Force matrix/continuum should afford you being one (1) step ahead of him (i.e. non-lethal, less-than-lethal, impact weapon, etc.). Likewise, if the bad guy has a knife, you should be justified in going straight to your firearm. Of course, if you’re in a heated fight and losing, you can escalate to whatever level is necessary in order to win (including deadly force).
Retired Tampa Police Sergeant and Defensive Tactics expert Jim Diamond III preaches that “Confidence, Competency and Control give the Officer the ability to back away from issues that do not immediately put lives in jeopardy until sufficient assets are in place to predict success”3. Diamond goes on to state that “the inability to recognize potential liability for impetuous action is most definitely dependent on the individual’s physical conditioning, stamina and the ability to deal with stress”3. In Diamond’s 44 year career in law enforcement (both active and reserve) he’s “observed the disastrous effect of Officers not maintaining physical fitness as it relates to their personal health and their ability to perform the job in a manner that ensures the safety of themselves, their fellow officers and the public they have sworn to protect”3. Diamond sums it up best when talking about Conditioning, Confidence and Competency – “one or more is absent in every incident that has plagued our industry as of late”3.
As a certified LEO you are entitled to use reasonable and necessary force to effect an arrest or detention. In LEO circles we joke about rather being arrested by a male than a female officer because females can normally justify the use of deadly force before a male can. This, of course, is because of their diminished size and strength. But what if the officer is escalating his use of force because he is unfit or out-of-shape? Officer “A” (who is in shape) can subdue a subject using defensive tactics or impact weapons while Officer “B” (who is out-of-shape) has to use deadly force. In today’s litigious society, that’s a recipe for disaster.
1 The Police Chief – The Professional Voice of Law Enforcement – June 2008
Fit for Duty? The Need for Physical Fitness Programs for Law Enforcement Officers
By Sgt. Adrienne Quigley
2 David Hutton v. City of Martinez
United States District Court for the Northern District of California
3 Jim Diamond III, Tampa Police Sergeant Retired – Defensive Tactics Expert – Dan Yudansha, USKA – Director of Operations for the West Central Florida PBA