The Research Basis for More Restrictive Use of Force Standards
Police Use Of Force Policies currently lack basic protections against police violence
These policies often fail to include common-sense limits on police use of force, including:
- Failing to require officers to de-escalate situations, where possible, by communicating with subjects, maintaining distance, and otherwise eliminating the need to use force [ Require officers to de-escalate situations]
- Allowing officers to choke or strangle civilians, in many cases where less lethal force could be used instead, resulting in the unnecessary death or serious injury of civilians [ Ban Chokeholds & Strangleholds – Both chokeholds and all other neck restraints must be banned in all cases.]
- Failing to require officers to intervene and stop excessive force used by other officers and report these incidents immediately to a supervisor [ Require officers to intervene and stop excessive force used by other officers and report these incidents ]
- Failing to restrict officers from shooting at moving vehicles, which is regarded as a particularly dangerous and ineffective tactic [ Ban officers from shooting at moving vehicles in all cases ]
- Failing to develop a Force Continuum that limits the types of force and/or weapons that can be used to respond to specific types of resistance [ Establish a Force Continuum that restricts the most severe types of force to the most extreme situations and creates clear policy restrictions ]
- Failing to require officers to exhaust all other reasonable means before resorting to deadly force [ Require officers to exhaust all other alternatives, including non-force and less lethal force options ]
- Failing to require officers to give a verbal warning, when possible, before shooting at a civilian [Require Warning Before Shooting ]
- Failing to require officers to report each time they use force or threaten to use force against civilians [ Require officers to report each time they use force or threaten to use force against civilians ]
Over 40 years of research supports the conclusion that more restrictive use of force standards reduce police violence. In 1979, criminologist James Fyfe published a study examining the effect of the NYPD’s adoption of a more restrictive use of force policy, which included a ban on shooting at people in moving vehicles and a requirement that officers use lesser alternatives when possible (the minimum level of force possible) rather than deadly force. His groundbreaking research found that civilian killings and injuries by police dropped significantly following the adoption of this policy – and that officers were less likely to be killed or injured under this more restrictive policy as well. Since then, researchers have found significant reductions in police shootings after more restrictive use of force policies were adopted in Omaha, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Dallas, and Memphis. Additionally, when Philadelphia repealed its restrictive deadly force policy in 1974, researchers found that police shootings rose substantially and then dropped again when the city adopted a new deadly force policy in 1980 that limited deadly force to only be used, “in defense of life when no alternatives exist.” These researchers found that police shootings dropped 67% within one year of the adoption of this more restrictive use of force standard in Philadelphia and remained at historically low rates for 10 years thereafter.
On a national level, researchers have found that when the US Supreme Court decided in 1985 (the Tennessee v. Garner decision) to adopt a more restrictive deadly force standard than had previously been in place, police killings dropped across the country by 16%. Recent research has identified additional policies that lead to reductions in police violence – including the requirement that an officer report whenever they point a firearm at a civilian. Legal scholars and public health experts have expanded this discourse as well – articulating the legal and public health rationales for more restrictive use of force policies including the requirement to use de-escalation, issue a verbal warning before shooting, establish a use of force continuum, and require alternatives be used before deadly force, as critical steps to restraining police power and reducing the harm they can cause.
Finally, in 2016, we conducted an analysis of the 100 largest US cities found that there were eight types of restrictions in police use of force policies that were associated with reductions in killings by police. This is the largest study on this topic to date and its findings echo the findings from past research, confirming the efficacy of policies like banning shooting at people in vehicles, the requirement officers exhaust alternatives prior to using deadly force and the requirement that officers report whenever they point a firearm at people. Moreover, our research found that having more of these use of force restrictions in place was associated with significantly fewer police-involved killings compared to departments with fewer of these policies in place. In that study, we also found that police departments with more restrictive use of force policies have better outcomes in terms of officer safety and have no impact on crime rates. The research is clear: more restrictive use of force policies like the kind we are advocating for through the 8Can’tWait campaign can save lives right now.
Use of Force Policy Database We are assembling the first open-source database of police use of force policies for the 100 largest U.S. city police departments. These documents, obtained through FOIA requests via MuckRock, will be used for future analyses identifying the ways in which they impact police accountability.
Anaheim Police Department ✔️, Bakersfield Police Department ✔️, Chula Vista Police Department ✔️, Fremont Police Department ✔️, Fresno Police Department ✔️, Irvine Police Department ✔️, Long Beach Police Department ✔️, Los Angeles Police Department ✔️, Oakland Police Department ✔️, Riverside Police Department ✔️, Sacramento Police Department ✔️, San Bernardino Police Department ✔️, San Diego Police Department ✔️, San Francisco Police Department ✔️, San Jose Police Department ✔️, Santa Ana Police Department ✔️, Stockton Police Department ✔️
Requires De-Escalation 49 cities, 8 CA
Has Use of Force Continuum 84 Cities 9 CA
Bans Chokeholds and Strangleholds 30 Cities 3 CA
Requires Warning Before Shooting 73 Cities 13CA
Restricts Shooting at Moving Vehicles 18 cities 2 CA
Requires Exhaust All Other Means Before Shooting 43 Cities 3 CA
Duty to Intervene 52 Cities 14 CA
Requires Comprehensive Reporting 31 Cities 5 CA
Source: Use of Force Project