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Your Personal Deadly Force Policy

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  • Your Personal Deadly Force Policy

    Your Personal Deadly Force Policy

    Can you drop the hammer?

    Have you ever been in a situation where you were justified in using deadly force, but did not? After all the excitement died down, and you began to analyze what just happened, did you question yourself as to why you were reluctant to use the force justified by the incident? Do not think that you are unique or strange if you answered in the affirmative. Many of your brothers and sisters in this industry have faced the same conundrum.

    Law enforcement & security officers are guided by their agency's deadly force policies. The cornerstone of most policies is that deadly force should be used only when it is reasonable and necessary to protect the officer or others from death or imminent serious physical injury. There are other qualifying statements as well, but safeguarding life is the common thread.

    Many agency's have modified deadly force policies to make them as clear and concise as possible. The officer on the street has to make that important decision as quickly as he can; he cannot waste time plodding through a lengthy litany of conditions. In 1985, the Supreme Court clarified what was formerly a very ambiguous situation for many departments. In Tennessee v. Garner, the court forbade using deadly force against fleeing felons who do not pose a threat of death or serious injury to the officer or others. So now it seems clear, to the extent that a dynamic potential lethal force situation can be, when an officer is authorized to use deadly force.

    Now enter the red herring. While not generally discussed, the officer's personal deadly force policy (PDFP) many times overrides his department's deadly force policy. Let's discuss why the PDFP is so powerful. All of us are influenced by many outside factors. Indeed, these things cause us to say what we say, and act the way that we do each day. What are some of these forces that imprint our behavior?

    First and foremost is our upbringing. How your parents raised you has a profound impact on the rest of your life. If you had very strict parents, your tolerance for bad behavior is probably low. On the other hand, if your family life was very liberal, and the lines between acceptable and unacceptable behaviors were nebulous, your tolerance is probably much higher. Some households were very strict; the Bible was the moral compass that colored most deportment. Religious training develops a strong sense of morals and ethics that can guide one for a lifetime. A strong father that served as a role model for his children is probably the best example a young man or woman can have. Add into that mix of influencing factors that most police officers have an innate sense of fairness, and you have an individual that believes in giving everyone a fighting chance. Indeed, most officers will tell you that the last thing they ever want to have happen is to be compelled to use deadly force.

    So while we see how family life, morals, ethics, and culture mold an individual's ability to make a decision to use deadly force, there is also another factor to consider--confidence. A police officer can be fully within the law and policy of his department and still not be able to make that decision to use deadly force simply because he lacks confidence in his skills and abilities. He may be a marginal performer at firearms and tactical/role-playing scenario training. In fact, he may be the topic of locker room conversation that questions his ability to perform his duties on the street. Some officers will never be able to employ deadly force, even if their life or the life of their partner is in jeopardy.

    I have interviewed trainees with just that mindset. Most enter law enforcement wanting to serve their fellow man. They think that somehow the deadly force situation will never be an issue for them, but when they finally face reality they must admit that their PDFP is more powerful than any training they receive at the academy.

    Sometimes an officer will spend their entire career without ever having to use their weapon to defend themselves or another. We will never know how many brothers and sisters in blue have served in the ranks that were foursquare against killing another human being. Nevertheless, to the extent that we can know who among us is unwilling to do whatever it takes to do the job, we are obligated to identify them and ensure that when we go through a door together, everyone is on the same sheet of music. PDFPs exist in every officer, but when they adversely affect his or her performance, they become everyone's business. Police work is not always pretty, indeed many times it is downright sad and depressing, but social workers that carry weapons will never work in harmony with those that stand on the front lines every day and night. Warriors need to stand shoulder to shoulder; secure in the knowledge that their brothers and sisters will do the right thing. Make sure that you can drop the hammer.

    By John Wills

    John Wills, spent 2 years in the U.S. Army before serving 12 years with the Chicago Police Department (CPD). He left the CPD to become an FBI Special Agent, working organized crime, violent crime, and drugs. John served as the Principal Firearms Instructor, Training Coordinator, and sniper team leader in the Detroit Division for 10 years. Before retiring from the FBI, he spent 7 years teaching at the FBI Academy at Quantico, Virginia. He has taught Street Survival domestically and internationally, as well as supervised new agent training at the Academy. John is presently a field manager in the Training Division with Advanced Interactive Systems. He also owns his own business -- LivSafe, teaching personal safety classes.
    "People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf."

    ~~George Orwell.