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July 17, 2018
[Blue Line Lawyer]

A User’s Guide to Use of Force Incidents Caught on Video

You cannot open social media without finding the newest video of LEOs using force – in many cases deadly force. The clips range from a few seconds to a few minutes. They seem to spread like wildfire with thousands of comments. Some praise the LEOs, some condemn them, and some just spew hate – in the name of tolerance. In a recent trend, more and more comments offer prayers for LEOs in general. That’s always a good thing as I’ve never met a LEO who didn’t welcome any prayers that come their way.

Aside from the intentional efforts to pervert the facts by editing these videos or inserting commentary over them, there is usually a lesson in each of these videos. Those lessons are invaluable for LEOs, journalists, politicians, activists, the general public, and those folks with a propensity to stray outside the lines of lawful conduct.

While is axiomatic that one must have at least a working knowledge of the laws of the use of force, criminal law, and the realistic mechanics of the use of force, anyone who wants to learn these lessons has the ability to do so. So, here are the lessons.

1. The only lawful response to a LEO placing a person under arrest is to allow yourself to be taken into custody WITHOUT resistance. People do this everyday. LEOs make 12-13 million arrests each year – that’s over 33,000 custodial arrests each day. The overwhelming majority occur without any use of force because the arrestee does not resist.

2. Deadly encounters happen QUICKLY! Situations often progress from peaceful to life-threatening with little warning and with almost no time for the LEO to react. If they do not react, they do not go home.

3. Body cameras will NEVER show the LEO’s view of the situation. Body cameras have no peripheral vision, do not move with the LEO’s eyes, do not see the same as a human eye in low and no light conditions, and use a fisheye lens that does not provide a true impression of distances.

4. The video does not tell you what the LEO knew BEFORE she arrived, what dispatch relayed to the LEO, the LEO’s prior history with the suspect(s) or the location, how close assistance was to the LEO, or the presence of innocent and uninvolved parties.

5. Recording devices never blink. LEOs do.

6. The LEO experienced the situation one time at full speed. You can watch it over and over and use frame advance to notice things the LEO couldn’t possibly have taken into consideration.

7. As much as a BWC will never capture the LEO’s point of view, the surveillance video from across the street, the bystander’s phone in a car driving by, and the dash camera of the LEO arriving after the incident is unfolding is even further removed from the LEO’s perspective.

8. The law requires the LEO’s actions to be judged from the perspective of a reasonable LEO, not a reasonable person. See Graham v. Connor.

9. The tactics and techniques employed by LEOs were not developed in a vacuum. We learned when we buried LEOs, we learned when courts sanctioned law enforcement conduct, and we responded to changing threats and circumstances.

10. LEOs have two rights that you see at issue in EVERY use of force video; the right to do their jobs without being assaulted and the right to due process when they are accused of misconduct.

If you apply these points to every video you see, you will see things in a new light with perhaps a different perspective. Before you apply your own set of rules, have the courage to learn and ask someone. Ignorance is cured by deliberate efforts to educate oneself. Perpetuating ignorance is inexcusable. Feel free to send me a note with your questions. I’m happy to help you with your efforts. Stay safe.

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Disclaimer: This blog is for informational purposes and should not be considered legal advice about a specific issue or situation. Working directly with an attorney on your situation is the best method for navigating legal issues. If you have a concern about a specific issue or situation, you should seek legal advice without delay. Contact the supreme court or bar association in your state for assistance locating attorneys in your area.