If you really want to give yourself a
headache, do as I do – go on the
Internet and read, read, read about
excessive force.  Allegations of excessive
force can go from obvious to hazy to
clearly unfounded.  The bottom line is
this: every time you apply force, you
must be prepared and able to explain
exactly what led you to use force and
that your decision to use force was
"reasonable" under the prevailing
circumstance(s).  Here's the tricky part:
Your description of the prevailing
circumstance(s) and reasonableness
must be able to withstand the scrutiny of

Your police department's directive on use
of force reporting is going to have a lot
to do with how you report your uses of
force.  Any police department you join will
have one of three types of policies
governing use of force reporting:

First Type:  This police department will
consider just about any type of force, no
matter how minimal, as a use of force
incident requiring reporting.  The
directions and other criteria will be
voluminous and confusing.  The
department's efforts to address every
question imaginable will require ongoing
changes and additions to the reporting

Over time, this police department will see
a significant decrease in use of force
incidents, not because the reporting
requirements are producing kinder and
gentler police officers, but, because its
police officers will simply omit any
mention of use of force where they
believe the use of force is insignificant.
In police work, a presumption of
insignificance has a way of itself becoming
significant.  When you fail to describe a
use of force, another kind of
presumption will be made by others.  
That presumption will be that your failure
to describe your use of force shows that,
by your own determination, your initial
perception of circumstances leading you
to use force was itself unjustifiable.  Even
worse, you may well be accused of using
force gratuitously without any regard for

Second Type:  In this police
department, you may not have a lot of
direction on use of force reporting.  What
direction that does exist may be
adequate over a period of time; until, a
use of force incident occurs that exposes
a real, alleged, or perceived deficiency(s)
in the reporting requirements.  When this
circumstance occurs, this police
department's reporting criteria will be in
danger of becoming one of the first type.

Third Type:  In this police department,
the use of force reporting directions and
requirements have achieved a perfect
balance.  While anything is possible, it's
not likely that you'll join this police

The most important thing for you to
always remember is that use of force is
going to be part of what you do.  When
you exercise use of force, it will always be
your responsibility to report, in writing, a
detailed account of that force with
emphasis placed on why you employed
force.  If you're working in a department
where use of force reporting is required
for everything you can imagine, just do
your best to comply with all of its

Sometimes, a police department is its
own worst enemy.  In its zeal to ensure
accountability, a police department will
often adopt policies and procedures
which are based on numbers alone and
counterproductive to reporting integrity.  
For instance, your department may
require you to undergo counseling by
your commander if you accumulate three
(3) uses of force within a one (1) year
period.  Then, upon your fourth use of
force within that period, you'll be required
to meet with a departmental

Prepare yourself.  Sometimes things just
get crazy.  There's nothing wrong with
accountability, tracking and counseling;
however, when anything is done by
numbers alone, true accountability will
always be elusive.  In the example I just
cited, there's more to uses of force than
just numbers.  For example – How many
total arrests have you made in the period
in question?  What types of arrests are
involved?  How many and what type, if
any, physical injuries resulted from the
uses of force including injury(s) to you?

Your Report Narrative

Whenever you use force there's going to
be an arrest; unless, the suspect eludes
arrest.  Never the less, there's going to
be a police report.  Don't ever think for
one instant that just because a suspect
eludes arrest after you've use force
against that suspect that you need not
make a written report of the incident with
a description of any use of force –
remember two U.S. Border Patrol Agents
who didn't and wish they had.

Regardless of any additional reporting
requirements your department may have
regarding force, the most important
description of your use of force should
always appear in the narrative of your
police report and statement of probable
cause.  When use of force is required
after initial reporting has been completed,
i.e. transport, interrogation, etc., you
simply write a follow-up report to the
original reporting.

One of the reasons some police
departments resort to extraordinary
measures for use of force reporting is
some officers' inability, inattention, or
unwillingness to adequately articulate
reasons for, and descriptions of, use of
force.  While inability can always be
addressed, inattention and unwillingness
are not that easy to address and
correct.  When you become a police
officer, you're going to get a lot of
advice, and some of that advice is going
to be bad when it comes to an inherent
condition among police to skimp on
detail.  You need to ask yourself this
question.  Do you want to describe your
reason(s) for using force, or do you want
others to describe your reason(s) after
the fact?


When it comes to anything, what is
reasonable to one may not be reasonable
to another.  When I mentioned earlier
about getting a headache from reading
about excessive force, it's the best way
for you to get a head start on
understanding how courts view
reasonableness as it relates to use of
force.  Unlike previous generations of
police officers, you have the Internet at
your fingertips and ever increasing
amounts of timely information on use of
force issues.

Deadly Force

Hopefully, you'll never have occasion to
use deadly force; however, should that
circumstance occur, you won't likely be
required to submit any initial reporting
when serious injury or death results from
your use of deadly force.  While you
could be ordered to submit reporting
under administrative rules unrelated to
your 5th amendment rights against self-
incrimination, it's unlikely that you'll be
required to do so.

Any use of force is a big deal.  Most
people will never understand what it's like
to make split second decisions regarding
use of force; however, most people will
always view themselves as experts when
it comes to evaluating your split second
decisions in hindsight.  Never forget that
how you describe the reasons for those
decisions is just as important as the
decisions themselves.
Every use of force incident by a police
officer is unique.   It's unique because
every use of force incident will have its
own set of facts that dictate why you use
force and to what level you apply or
escalate force.  This circumstance is
rarely, if ever, understood by your critics
and other self-styled experts.  In fairness
to your perennial critics, police officers
frequently fail to clearly articulate, in
writing, their perceptions of
circumstances at the point when they
apply force.
Use of Force
"...the most important description of
your use of force should always
appear in the narrative of your police
report and statement of probable
cause." ~ Barry M. Baker
Copyright © 2015  Barry M. Baker