Police officers are given a significant amount of responsibility in their decision-making, and in fact, they are protected by a concept called qualified immunity. This means that they are often not liable for decisions that they make during the course of doing their job because it is understood that they must often make split-second decisions in times of danger and high stress.
However, despite this, police officers are also expected to exercise good judgment and defuse a situation with as little force or damage as possible. If you or someone you know has had an encounter with a law enforcement officer, understanding how they are supposed to determine their next steps is important in protecting your civil rights.
The Standard Of Reasonable Force
The primary driver behind an officer’s decisions on the field is “reasonableness.” The officer must select a method of handling the situation that a general sampling of police officers would consider to be reasonable and expected for that situation.
If a law enforcement officer exceeds what others would deem reasonable, they may be liable for police excessive force or police brutality. When considering what is reasonable, officers will generally look at the severity of the situation: how much danger they and the public are currently in, as well as any potential danger that the suspect could cause if not immediately apprehended. They will also evaluate whether the suspect is resisting and how severe the crime is in general.
Types Of Force At An Officer’s Disposal
As an officer combs through his or her mental catalogue of options to resolve a situation, it is expected that the individual will start with the methods that require the least aggression, physical contact and risk of harm. This means that an officer should typically start an encounter by speaking calmly.
This may be in the form of a greeting or simple conversation. If the situation is escalating, the officer is then permitted to raise their voice to be heard and to begin giving direct commands.
After this, the officer may use gentle physical contact in an attempt to get the individual to comply, and if this does not work, more direct physical contact such as grabbing and restraining may be necessary. At this point, if the officer or the public is in danger, more advanced tools such as police K-9 units, tasers and batons may become a necessity.
Only a very restricted subset of incidents qualify for escalation beyond this, to deadly force. If an officer does not progress through these gradually more aggressive options and opts directly for a more forceful approach, they may be guilty of excessive force or brutality.
Exceptions For Deadly Force
If a suspect is a direct and immediate threat to the safety and lives of officers or the public, such as if the individual threatens the officer with a gun, the Supreme Court has established that the officer may resort to deadly force to stop the individual from causing harm. However, an officer must be able to defend that they had probable cause to believe that the suspect was dangerous at that moment.
What To Do If You Have Been A Victim Of Police Excessive Force
If you have been in an encounter with a police officer and believe that they did not adequately exercise the gradual escalation of aggression, it is important that you document everything that you can remember as soon as possible after the incident. If you can recall the officer’s name, physical description, badge number or license plate number, this is helpful; however, if you cannot, be sure to at least document the time of day and approximate location.
If you remember what was said, write that down as well, but be sure not to embellish; your testimony is vital, and if it is called into question, your case will struggle as a result. Contact a civil rights attorney to help you file a lawsuit for brutality or police excessive force to defend your rights.
Trust A Civil Rights Attorney To Defend Your Best Interests
If you believe that you have been a victim of an officer who did not adequately adhere to their expected standards of what is reasonable, an attorney can help you navigate the process of filing a lawsuit.
The lawyers at The Brown Firm would be happy to help you understand your options and can advocate on your behalf in court against a police officer’s qualified immunity. Reach out to schedule a consultation to share your account of the event and begin the process of seeking the justice that you deserve.