Documenting Use of Force and Writing Blue Team Reports

Chad Lyman
LVPPA Director

One of the most scrutinized and important tasks an officer undertakes is using force upon a resistive suspect. Despite all the public affairs stuff that occurs with modern policing, the most important part of policing, the thing that cannot be replaced, is the requirement for someone to intervene appropriately, at times with force, to stop individuals within the community who must be placed into custody.

When LVMPD officers use intermediate force or higher, cause visible injury or the suspect complains of injury (visible or not), officers will complete a Blue Team report to document the event. This article will give some guidance to follow if officers are required to complete a Blue Team use-of-force report.

First, realize that some Blue Teams are completed simply because the suspect complains about the event, even though there are no other factors that would make the report necessary. For example, an officer handcuffs a suspect and the suspect is upset about being arrested. The suspect complains that they are injured during handcuffing, even though there was no struggle or force beyond low-level hand control and the physical handcuffing. In addition, there is no visible injury. Officers should still contact their supervisor and follow all protocols to include a Blue Team if the suspect claims injury. In this case, it would be appropriate to document the low-level force and no visible injury, and the fact that the officer is simply completing the Blue Team due to policy requiring them to do so because of the complaint of injury.

There are other events that require a Blue Team due to the physical force an officer used being intermediate force, actually causing an injury or both. Anytime you have to do a Blue Team, there are several things you should keep in mind.

First, you have the right to LVPPA representation. You can call us to run the call by us. We can and will come out to your call if needed. Your representative can watch body cam, review any evidence and assist you in documenting the use of force accurately and completely.

Second, you have the right to review your body camera before writing or documenting your use of force. Make sure you do so. There may be perception or memory differences between what you recall or experienced and what the camera appears to show. Do not change your story based on what you see on camera. Explain and document your perceptions and acknowledge the differences that may exist on camera. This is an area where a PPA rep can assist you for sure. It is normal for officers to suffer some perceptual distortion during an event, but it can feel very unsettling to actually experience this and see it play out on video. A representative can help officers acknowledge and articulate the differences between perception and what might have actually occurred. The Supreme Court understood that perceptions can vary when it set the requirement in Graham v. Connor that officers’ responses must be what a reasonable officer would do if confronted with similar circumstances.

Third, make sure the body of your use-of-force Blue Team follows the 70% rule. This general rule means that the body of your report should be about what the call is about, what crime or event you reasonably believe occurred, what the suspect is saying, documentation of the suspect’s body language and any physical resistance the suspect offers.

When documenting what the suspect says, include direct quotes of threats or profanity. Do not say, “The suspect used profanity.” Do say, “The suspect looked directly at me and yelled, ‘Fuck you! If you come near me I will knock you the fuck out!’” If you document cursing, be sure to put it into quotes to stay professional. In addition to what words a suspect is saying, include documentation of tone, tempo of words, slurred speech and incoherence.

Documentation of a suspect’s body language is pivotal in accurately documenting a suspect’s threat level. Saying a suspect was “aggressive” with no follow-up of specific language or body language may not adequately document a suspect’s behavior or threat level sufficiently to justify a particular use of force. Describe stance, body movements (pointing or gesturing), clenched fists, bulging veins, etc.

Properly documenting a suspect’s resistance is key. You can say the suspect was aggressive or uncooperative, but without supporting documentation those words don’t mean much. Make sure to follow up and tell how and why the suspect was aggressive or a threat.

As you document all of the above, consider typing all of the body of the report in a Word document until you are comfortable with the final product.

Make sure you are complete in your Blue Team documentation. Make sure that you:

  • Focus on the suspect’s actions and behavior throughout the report, so the reader understands your reasonable perceptions that led to you using force on the event.
  • Accurately answer all follow-up questions.
  • Review your body cam prior to writing your use-of-force report.
  • Address all perceptual differences between the officer perception and video.
  • Utilize PPA representation for an assist or even run it by a rep if you have any questions at all.

Make sure you are complete and thorough in your documentation of suspect behavior and all of your perceptions.

If you need any assistance with Blue Team documentation, please call the PPA immediately.