Chapter 4. Use of Force

AuthorKen Wallentine
Force to make a felony arrest
Excessive force
Force to make a misdemeanor arrest
Force to maintain order or gain compliance
Force in an officer’s self-defense
Resisting arrest
Deadly force against a stun gun or pepper spray
Measuring the appropriate application of force
Force to enter a suspect’s home
Force to enter a third party’s home
Specialized applications of force
Alternative force tools
Use of force to obtain evidence
Use of force in correctional facilities
Reporting use of force
Consequences of improper use of force
Force to make a felony arrest
An officer may use no more force than is reasonably neces-
sary to make an arrest. Deadly force may be used only
when lesser force is not reasonable and when the suspect
presents an imminent threat of death or serious bodily in-
jury to the officer or the public. Deadly force may be used
to prevent an escape by a fleeing felon when:
the officer has probable cause to believe that the sus-
pect committed a crime involving the threat of death or
serious bodily injury, AND;
deadly force is reasonably necessary to prevent the es-
cape, AND;
the officer gives a warning prior to the use of force,
whenever feasible.
The traditional common law rule of force allowed an
officer to use whatever force necessary, including deadly
force, to make a felony arrest. The common law rule was
modified in many states during the 1960s and 1970s, and in
1985, the United States Supreme Court banned the use of
deadly force against a fleeing felon who does not pose an
immediate threat to officers or the public.
Tennesee v. Gar-
, 471 U.S. 1 (1985). Deadly force may still be used on
some fleeing felons in very limited circumstances (
letter rule above).
All use of force lawsuits are measured by standards es-
tablished by the Supreme Court in
Graham v. Connor
, 490
U.S. 386 (1989). In the
case, the Court instructed
lower courts to always ask three questions to measure the
constitutionality of a particular use of force. First, what was
the severity of the crime that the officer believed the sus-
pect to have committed or to be committing? Second, did
the suspect present an immediate threat to the safety of
officers or the public? Third, was the suspect actively resist-
ing arrest or attempting to escape? The Supreme Court also
stated that the use of force should be measured by what the
officer knew at the scene.
If officers create the situation requiring deadly force,
they may be liable for resulting injuries. Responding to a
suicide call, deputies approached a woman loading a gun.
They retreated, and one deputy then approached to within a
few feet, thinking that he was hidden from her. She saw him
and turned her weapon in his direction. He fired three times,

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