It’s Time for Our Input on Use-of-Force Policies

George Hofstetter is the president of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs (ALADS).

By George Hofstetter

News headlines from around the nation make clear the concerted effort by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) to convince the public and legislators to enact its principles on the use of force.

The national debate on police training regarding “de-escalation” have portrayed the PERF principles as the vetted solution to the issue of police use of force. However, many of these principles are dangerous, were adopted without critical scrutiny, andare opposed by sheriffs, chiefs of police, and law enforcement rank-and-file.

Deputy sheriffs and police officers in Southern California and across the country welcome real solutions that will allow them to end potential violent situations without injury. However, what true law enforcement professionals oppose are unvetted “solutions” not based in reality. For example, one PERF “principle” calls for law enforcement officers to ask themselves before employing force: “How would the general public view the action we took?”

As former New York and Los Angeles Police Chief Bill Bratton noted, law enforcement use of force is never pretty, even if the tactics used effectively defuse a situation. Implementing standards that substitute effective tactics to appease what might be the public perception of what “looks good” is absurd and dangerous. Other PERF-suggested principles likewise aren’t based in reality of what actually occurs daily in the field.

For example, there is the demand that law enforcement agencies replace the United States Supreme Court’s test of “objective reasonableness” (Graham v. Connor) with an undefined “moral” standard.

Should what’s reasonable in California, Virginia, New York, or anywhere else in this country be determined by a common denominator? The fact that some departments may adopt more restrictive rules than Graham v. Connor does not alter the framework of determining the “reasonableness” of police use of force for Fourth Amendment purposes. Whether a peace officer’s use of force is “reasonable” for purposes of criminal charges or even civil liability under the Fourth Amendment is evaluated by a nationwide standard of what is reasonable force, not a standard PERF advocates or what an individual department deems appropriate.

Another suggestion is that law enforcement only use force that is “safe” and never do anything to “escalate” the situation. The reality is there is no use of force that is safe.

When the danger posed by a suspect increases, because a person fails to comply with lawful orders, law enforcement is obligated to “escalate” to resolve the situation. The common thread running through PERF’s principles is the idea that the actions of a suspect are irrelevant, and that only the reaction of law enforcement to a suspect’s actions are to be considered.

The PERF standards were adopted by that organization without any real, honest discussion of the principles. Former LAPD Captain Greg Myer, a PERF member, wondered “if anybody who has actually faced deadly threats was involved in the drafting of the document.”

The Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs invited PERF Executive Director Chuck Wexler to Los Angeles to engage in a robust discussion before rank-and-file law enforcement officers regarding the newly published PERF principles. After all, what better way to have them accepted than to have an in-depth explanation of them by the person credited as the driving force behind their adoption?

Unfortunately, Mr. Wexler and PERF have flatly refused the invitation to discuss these principles.

Law enforcement professionals across the nation welcome a full-throated discussion on police use of force and de-escalation. Why can’t the same be said of PERF?

George Hofstetter is president of the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs.