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Police Use of Force Project


How police use of force policies can help to end police violence.

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Police Use of Force Project


How police use of force policies can help to end police violence.

 

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: 

  1. Failing to make life preservation the primary principle shaping police decisions about using force

  2. Failing to require officers to de-escalate situations, where possible, by communicating with subjects, maintaining distance, and otherwise eliminating the need to use force

  3. 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

  4. Failing to require officers to intervene and stop excessive force used by other officers and report these incidents immediately to a supervisor

  5. 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.

  6. Failing to require officers to exhaust all other reasonable means before resorting to deadly force.

  7. Failing to require officers to give a verbal warning, when possible, before shooting at a civilian.

  8. Failing to require officers to report each time they use force or threaten to use force against civilians

 
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Review


We reviewed the rules governing police use of force in America's largest city police departments to determine whether they include meaningful protections against police violence.

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Review


We reviewed the rules governing police use of force in America's largest city police departments to determine whether they include meaningful protections against police violence.

We reviewed the use of force policies of 91 of America's 100 largest city police departments* to determine whether they include meaningful protections against police violenceClick the boxes below to view details for each policy.

*Birmingham, Chesapeake, Hialeah, Jersey City, Long Beach, and Memphis police departments refused to send their use of force policies by July 15, 2016. Colorado Springs, El Paso and Sacramento police departments sent heavily redacted policies which were excluded from the analysis.


34 of the 91 police departments reviewed require officers to de-escalate situations, when possible, before using force.


                    Philadelphia Police Department Use Of Force Continuum

77 of the 91 police departments reviewed have a Force Continuum or Matrix included in their use of force policy, defining the types of force/weapons that can be used to respond to specific types of resistance.


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21 of the 91 police departments reviewed explicitly prohibit chokeholds and strangleholds (including carotid restraints) or limit these tactics to situations where deadly force is authorized.


56 of the 91 police departments reviewed require officer to give a verbal warning, when possible, before using deadly force. 


19 of the 91 police departments reviewed prohibit officers from shooting at people in moving vehicles unless the person poses a deadly threat by means other than the vehicle (for example, shooting at people from the vehicle).


31 of the 91 police departments reviewed require officers to exhaust all other reasonable alternatives before resorting to using deadly force.


30 of the 91 police departments reviewed require officers to intervene to stop another officer from using excessive force.


15 of the 91 police departments reviewed require officers to report all uses of force including threatening another civilian with a firearm.

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Analysis


We examined the relationship between use of force policies and police killings and found significantly fewer killings by police departments with strong policies in place.

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Analysis


We examined the relationship between use of force policies and police killings and found significantly fewer killings by police departments with strong policies in place.

Overview

We compared police department use of force policies with police killings data for 91 of the 100 largest police departments to see if there was a relationship between the two. We found that police departments with policies that place clear restrictions on when and how officers use force had significantly fewer killings than those that did not have these restrictions in place.


Approach

For this analysis, we used police killings data from The Guardian's The Counted database, from January 1, 2015 - July 15, 2016. As shown by the chart below, there was wide variation in rates of police killings among America's largest city police departments.

Then we examined the extent to which killings by these police departments were related to the number of restrictive use of force policies these departments had, as well as other factors including the number of arrests made by the department, size of the police force, racial demographics of each city, number of assaults on officers, and the median income and level of inequality in each city.


Results

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For each of the 8 policies examinedpolice departments that had implemented the policy were less likely to kill people than police departments that had not.

Police departments with four or more of these restrictive use of force policies had the fewest killings per population and per arrest. After taking into account other factors, each additional use of force policy was associated with a 15% reduction in killings by police. According to our analysis, the average police department would have 54% fewer killings and a police department with none of these policies currently in place would have 72% fewer killings by implementing all eight of these policies.


DISCUSSION

These results indicate that while the chances of killing a civilian increases the more arrests a police department makes, that likelihood is shaped by the department’s policies governing how and when police can use force during those encounters. This suggests that advocacy efforts pushing police department to adopt more restrictive use of force policies - and the accountability structures to enforce them - can substantially reduce the number of people killed by police in America. And while this analysis was limited to examining rates of deadly force, these policies may also be associated with reductions in other forms of police violence as well.

Despite their potential impact, efforts to push for these changes have often been opposed by police organizations that claim more restrictive use of force policies “endanger officers” (See herehere, and here). We find that these assumptions are not supported by the data. Officers in police departments with more restrictive policies in place are actually less likely to be killed in the line of duty, less likely to be assaulted, and have similar likelihood of sustaining an injury during an assault. 

In short, a commitment to protect and preserve life necessitates the immediate adoption of more restrictive policies governing when and how officers use force in our communities.