A group of 11 national police organizations issued a new model policy Tuesday for police departments nationwide that for the first time incorporates the concept of “de-escalation” when an officer is facing the choice of using deadly force. The new policy also newly recommends that police departments declare that “It is the policy of this law enforcement agency to value and preserve human life.”
But the new policy also allows for the firing of warning shots, which most police departments prohibit, and the firing at moving vehicles under certain circumstances. And several large police groups, including two national sheriffs’ associations and the Major Cities Chiefs Association declined to sign on to the policy after participating in the development process, citing objections to certain aspects such as warning shots
The International Association of Chiefs of Police brought together more than a dozen national police groups starting last spring to develop a “National Consensus Policy On Use Of Force” after a number of high-profile police-involved shootings, said former IACP President Terry Cunningham, who convened the group before stepping down from the IACP last fall. Also last spring, the IACP and the national Fraternal Order of Police officers’ union joined together in a rare collaboration to push back on a new “30 Guiding Principles” for use of police force issued in early 2016 by the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington-based think tank supported by large city police chiefs which called for police emphasis on the “sanctity of life” for everyone in a critical incident, not just the officers.
So the two national groups convened a summit of police organizations, including the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, the National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives, groups of federal, tactical and investigative officers and other police trade groups. “These are the people who are on the street every day doing the job,” Cunningham said. “You want to have their buy-in.”
Fraternal Order of Police executive director Jim Pasco called the new policy “historic,” because of “the span of perspectives which have signed on, the unanimity of groups,” from both labor and executive groups. “It may well portend a positive working relationship going forward” between officers and police executives.
The IACP already had a “Model Policy” on use of force, and every police department, large or small, has its own policy on when officers should fire their weapons, whether they should fire at or from moving vehicles, whether they should fire warning shots, and when they should use “less-lethal force.” Nearly all of those policies, as well as the new consensus policy, lift wording from the Supreme Court case of Graham v. Connor, which said police shootings should be assessed from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, and whether their actions are “objectively reasonable” in light of the circumstances seen by the officer.
But the new policy adds a section on de-escalation, which states that “An officer shall use de-escalation techniques and other alternatives to higher levels of force consistent with his training whenever possible and appropriate before resorting to force and to reduce the need for force.” That means creating space between an officer and a subject, talking and trying to calm a subject, waiting for backups and supervisors to arrive and trying to resolve a situation without gunfire, when the subject does not have a gun.
Those were the concepts proposed by Chuck Wexler, and endorsed by many big city police chiefs, in the Police Executive Research Forum’s 30 Guiding Principles. One deputies association called it “a ridiculous piece of claptrap.” The joint statement from the IACP and FOP said, “We cannot reasonably expect law enforcement officers to walk away from potentially dangerous situations and individuals in the hope that those situations resolve themselves without further harm being done.”
But Cunningham said the 11 police groups jointly looked at de-escalation and decided, “This is a necessary part of what we do. It should be in the policy.” He said the labor organizations at the table “talked about the challenges of what officers see on the street. Ultimately, it all came back to, we get it. If we have the opportunity to de-escalate, we should. And they agreed with that.”
Pasco added, “We never said that de-escalation wasn’t a valid concept. We just said it’s not something that can be deployed in every instance, it’s not the be-all and end-all in the options in the use of force continuum. Every police officer in the U.S. is taught about de-escalation in rookie school. This is not new news.”
Perry Tarrant, an assistant police chief in Seattle and president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, agreed with Pasco that de-escalation was part of the use of force continuum, but also said it was “in line with 21st century policing,” as recommended by a policing task force convened by President Obama in 2015. “Within that scheme,” Tarrant said, “most organizations that are working toward 21st century policing have acknowledged the value of de-escalation and reducing the number of police-involved shootings.”
The IACP’s model policy strictly prohibited the use of warning shots, which can sometimes injure innocent bystanders, and firing from a moving vehicle. The new consensus policy allows for warning shots and firing from a vehicle under certain circumstances. The new policy also allows for shooting at a moving vehicle, but only when a person in the vehicle is threatening the officer or others with a weapon or using the vehicle to deliberately hit someone. The PERF principles call for a prohibition on all shooting at vehicles.
Cunningham said recent terrorist attacks with trucks in Nice and Berlin showed that officers may encounter someone using a vehicle as a deadly weapon. He also said if a police department has a policy which flatly prohibits shooting at a vehicle “it can be used against the officer in a criminal or civil trial.”
Wexler declined to comment on the new proposed policy Tuesday.
However, the presidents of the National Sheriffs’ Association and the Major County Sheriffs’ Associations both said that “the model policy does not have national consensus” and they would not be signing on. Greg Champagne, sheriff of St. Charles Parish, La., and head of the national association, and Sandra Hutchens, sheriff of Orange County, Calif., of the major county group, issued a joint statement Tuesday night which said the IACP effort was “well-intended,” but that “a one-size-fits-all policy is impractical; what is proper and accepted in one city or county may be contrary to law and/or community tolerances in another.” Champagne and Hutchens said they sought a document that “identifies lawful responses to resistance…but not a document that recommends or requires adherence to some objectionable concepts contained in the IACP policy.” They did not specify which parts of the new policy they didn’t like, and said their two groups would develop their own use-of-force guidelines.
Tom Manger, police chief of Montgomery County, Md., and president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, said he participated in the process and was thankful for the IACP’s efforts. But he said his group could not support endorsing the firing of warning shots and shooting at vehicles under the proposed policy. “I don’t want anybody to think that us not signing on is somehow a critique,” Manger said. “We appreciate them getting us involved. But this is not Major Cities Chiefs’ model policy, it’s the IACP’s. We’re treating it that way.”
Anthony Chapa, executive director of the Hispanic American Police Command Officers Association, said having both local, state and federal groups represented made for interesting discussion, but also made it hard to prohibit practices such as warning shots or firing at vehicles when some agencies still allow such things. He said “the idea of the model policy was to be inclusive and to build a model that anyone could take and pick from it what is useful to them, whether it’s a small town department or a university police department” or larger agency.
Cunningham said the new consensus policy “isn’t an IACP policy. This is a national consensus policy. We see administrators asking for it, and we see communities asking for it. This way, everybody signed on to it.”
Note: This post has been updated with comments from police officials after the policy was released Tuesday morning.
The new policy is below: