Understanding the Objective Standard

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Use of force - Policy Considerations:

Policy as Conceptual Guidance:
• Provides overarching principles, values, and objectives to guide decision-making.
• Focuses on setting a framework and direction for actions and behaviors.
• Emphasizes the organization's mission, vision, and desired outcomes.
• Offers flexibility for interpretation and adaptation based on specific situations.

Policy as Performance Measure:
• Involves specific, measurable criteria to assess and quantify performance.
• Often includes metrics, benchmarks, or key performance indicators (KPIs).
• Aims to evaluate how well objectives outlined in conceptual policies are being achieved.
• Facilitates monitoring, accountability, and continuous improvement in organizational processes. (refer to Sydnee Dekker above).

Policy Use-of-Force Specific:

Policies regarding the use of force in police departments across the nation typically emphasize that officers must employ force that is "objectively reasonable" under the given circumstances. This principle is derived from the Supreme Court decision in Graham v. Connor, which mandates that the reasonableness of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, without the benefit of hindsight.

However, there is an inherent tension in these policies because, in practice, officers make decisions based on subjective information available to them in real-time during a critical incident. At the moment an officer decides to use force, they rely on their perceptions, instincts, and immediate assessment of the situation, all of which are influenced by the stress and time constraints they face. These subjective decisions are later scrutinized against an objective standard, which can create challenges in both policy formulation and training.

Policy Considerations:
1. Objective Reasonableness vs. Subjective Decision-Making:
• Policies often fail to account for the fact that officers cannot make purely objective decisions in the heat of the moment. They are making quick judgments based on limited and sometimes inaccurate information.
• This discrepancy can lead to policies that seem out of touch with the realities of fieldwork, potentially setting unrealistic expectations for officers.


Training Implications:
To address this potential disconnect, training should focus on several key areas:

1. Scenario-Based Training:
• Use realistic, high-pressure scenarios that mimic the time constraints and stress officers will face in the field. This helps officers practice making decisions quickly and learn how to manage stress effectively. Keep in mind, this is performance based stress, which is different then stress based on the consequences of life and death. Although scenario based, or reality based training dust create some pressure on the decision making process, this pressure is rooted in performance anxiety, and not the realities of a true critical incident.


2. Critical Thinking and Decision-Making Skills:
• Emphasize the development of critical thinking and rapid decision-making skills. Officers should be trained to gather and assess information quickly, recognizing the limitations and biases that might affect their judgment.


3. Understanding the Legal Framework:
• Ensure that officers have a thorough understanding of the legal standards for use of force, including the concept of objective reasonableness and the factors considered by courts in evaluating use of force incidents. This is different than navigating the decision process during a critical incident.only through a complete review and investigation can the data be gathered to develop an understanding of why the decisions made by the officer made sense to them in the moment that force was used. An important note regarding this component is how the objective standard applies to the officers decision making process. An officer makes decisions in the moment based on reasonable beliefs within the context and the task environment.


4. After-Action Reviews:
• Incorporate after-action reviews of real and simulated incidents to analyze decisions made under pressure. This can help officers learn from both their own experiences and those of others, reinforcing good practices and identifying areas for improvement.


5. Communication and Verbal Skill Techniques applied to reach the Goal of De-escalation:
• Train officers in effective communication and verbal techniques to reduce or mitigate the force required to meet lawful goals and objectives. Emphasize the importance of attempting to resolve situations at the lowest level of force whenever possible, safe, and feasible, based on the suspects participation and response to those tactics.


6. Stress Management:
• Provide training on stress management and techniques for maintaining composure under pressure. This can improve an officer's ability to make sound decisions even in high-stress situations.This training should be considered part of the day in and day out stress management of an officers daily experiences. An important note is to develop an understanding of how competence in a particular environment can bolster confidence. The development of confidence in officers from the onset of their training, starting in the academy, going into the field training program, and then developing daily training to help officers understand their own decision making process. Knowledge is power, and experience with this knowledge is what develops competence and the resulting confidence to help officers manage stress in a critical incident.

By acknowledging the subjective nature of decision-making in critical incidents and focusing on practical training that prepares officers for these realities, departments can create more effective and realistic use of force policies. This approach not only helps officers make better decisions in the moment but also aligns departmental policies with the realities of police work, ultimately enhancing both officer and public safety.

Under the framework established by the Supreme Court decision in Graham v. Connor (1989), the assessment of an officer's use of force is based on whether the force was "objectively reasonable" in light of the facts and circumstances confronting the officer at the time, rather than with the benefit of hindsight. This means that the evaluation of an officer's actions does not take into account the information that became available after the incident or an assumption that the officer properly interpreted the actions and behavior of a suspect.

The standard of "objective reasonableness" acknowledges that officers often have to make split-second decisions in tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving situations. These decisions are made under significant time constraints and stress, limiting the officer's ability to deliberate, analyze, or consider alternative actions thoroughly. Despite these subjective conditions under which decisions are made, the ultimate judgment of whether the use of force was reasonable is made objectively, focusing on what a reasonable officer in the same situation would have done.

The Graham decision emphasizes that the reasonableness of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight. Courts consider factors such as the severity of the crime, whether the suspect posed an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and whether the suspect was actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight.

In summary, while officers make subjective decisions under time constraints, these decisions are later judged based on an objective standard, considering what a reasonable officer would have done in the same circumstances without the advantage of hindsight.

The "reasonable officer standard" under the umbrella of Graham v. Connor (1989) is pivotal in assessing the use of force by law enforcement officers. This standard emphasizes evaluating the actions of officers based on the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than through hindsight. Here are the key points:

1. Objective Reasonableness: The Supreme Court in Graham v. Connor established that the reasonableness of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight. This means that the evaluation should consider what a typical, reasonable officer might have perceived and decided in that moment, given the information available at the time.


2. Totality of Circumstances: The assessment must account for the totality of circumstances that the officer faced. This includes the severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and whether the suspect is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight.


3. Rapidly Evolving Situations: The decision to use force often occurs in tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving situations. The standard acknowledges that officers are often forced to make split-second judgments in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving.


4. No Perfect Answers: The reasonable officer standard recognizes that officers are not required to make perfect decisions but rather reasonable ones, given the circumstances they face. It aims to ensure that officers are judged fairly based on what they knew and perceived at the time, not what might be discovered or considered in the calm of hindsight.

This standard is designed to provide a fair and realistic framework for evaluating the actions of law enforcement officers, balancing the need for accountability with the recognition of the difficult and dynamic nature of their work.

A "reasonable officer," within the context of the Graham v. Connor decision, can be defined as follows:

1. Trained and Experienced: A reasonable officer possesses the training and experience typical of law enforcement officers in similar roles and jurisdictions. This includes knowledge of laws, policies, procedures, and best practices relevant to their duties.


2. Objective Perception: A reasonable officer makes decisions based on the objective information available at the time, without the influence of personal biases or subjective feelings. They rely on their senses, training, and experience to assess situations accurately.


3. Sound Judgment Under Pressure: A reasonable officer is expected to make sound judgments in high-pressure, rapidly evolving situations. They are trained to handle stress and uncertainty effectively and make decisions that prioritize safety and legal compliance. An important caveat to this point is that officers are making decisions on subjective information that may be incomplete and inaccurate. This is a point in these critical incidents that requires a deep review and analysis after a thorough investigation.


4. Adherence to Standards: A reasonable officer is expected to follow established protocols and guidelines, where it is feasible to do so based on the novelty of the incident, and the existing legal standards. 


5. Use of Force: When determining the necessity and level of force, a reasonable officer considers factors such as the severity of the crime, the immediacy of the threat posed by the suspect, and whether the suspect is resisting or attempting to flee. They use only the amount of force that is required, from the officers perspective, to achieve a legitimate law enforcement objective.Caution must be given to hindsight attribution i.e., investigating the outcome.


6. Perspective of the Scene: A reasonable officer's actions are evaluated based on what they knew or reasonably perceived and believed to be a fact at the time of the incident, rather than with the benefit of hindsight. This includes the contextual understanding of the environment, the behavior of individuals involved, and any immediate threats or risks.

A "reasonable officer" is one who acts in a manner consistent with the training, experience, and expectations of a competent law enforcement professional, making objective and judicious decisions based on the circumstances they face at the time.

The misinterpretation of the "reasonable officer" standard:

Often occurs when hindsight judgment is incorrectly applied to evaluate an officer's actions. This misinterpretation includes the following points:

1. Majority Consensus Fallacy: A common mistake is believing that if five out of ten or ten out of ten officers would have acted differently in a similar situation, then the officer's actions must have been unreasonable. This is incorrect because the standard does not require consensus among all officers but rather considers whether the officer's actions were reasonable under the circumstances.


2. Perfect Decision Expectation: Another misinterpretation is expecting officers to make perfect decisions. The reasonable officer standard acknowledges that officers must make split-second decisions in high-stress situations. The correct application of the standard does not fault an officer for failing to make the perfect decision, but rather assesses whether their actions were reasonable based on the information available at the time.


3. Hindsight Bias: Evaluating an officer's actions with the benefit of hindsight is a significant misinterpretation. This involves looking back at the incident with full knowledge of the outcomes and other information that was not available to the officer at the time. The reasonable officer standard specifically rejects this approach, emphasizing that the evaluation should be based on what a reasonable officer would have perceived and decided in the moment.

4. Uniformity in Response: Misinterpreting the standard to mean that all reasonable officers would respond identically in every situation is incorrect. The reasonable officer standard recognizes that different officers might take different, yet still reasonable, actions in similar circumstances. The focus is on the reasonableness of the actions given the specific context and constraints faced by the officer.The phenomenon of uniformity in response is another stumbling block in the assessment of the calculus for objective reasonableness, especially where multiple officers in the same scenario may potentially have made very different decisions regarding the application of force. The concept of shared cognition can create a treacherous landscape in the analysis of a particular officer's decisions in an incident where there are other officers present that may have interpreted the information differently for a number of reasons. Please refer to the article written and published by CIR Regarding this subject matter. XXX link

The misinterpretation of the "reasonable officer" standard occurs when those analyzing or assessing an officers decisions incorrectly believe that an officer's actions should align with what most officers would do, expect perfect decisions, or apply hindsight judgment, especially when other officers on the scene may have made "different decisions. The proper standard is whether the officer's actions were reasonable based on what they knew and perceived at the time, considering the totality of circumstances they faced, from their perspective within the incident.Dear
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Policy; Definitions and Interpretations
General Perception Issues: Video Examination
 

Comments 1

Guest - Jason Brown on Tuesday, 11 June 2024 01:01
Objective Standard

I couldn't agree more with Jamie that an Officer in a Critical Incident is making subjective decisions. If the Officer is involved the Officer has some sort of stake in the situation, either his/her safety, public safety or other factors. I don't think you can be a stake holder and be objective. Therefore, the only objective reasonable Officer would be on the review panel or board. At the review board level every Officer will have different experiences. A prime example is case law for creating reasonable suspicion or Probable cause the Officer's training and experience come in to play in their decision making. If you board is full of Officer's who are well versed in case law and policy, I think you will get the best outcome. I have recently been too numerous management schools, I have found a lot of people promoted to levels of decision making that only have Degrees (doesn't matter what in) and office time. How can this be considered Objectively reasonable when the decision makers have never been tasked with making force decision in the field their self's. I have also found that many Officers do not receive adequate training on case law and do not seek it out on their own. It is like playing a game and not knowing the rules. These same Officer's eventually make and adopt policies not knowing if they align with case law. I think that law Enforcment as a whole has to blame itself for a lot of our problems simply by not being a student of case law then putting it into action whether it be on patrol or on a review board.

I couldn't agree more with Jamie that an Officer in a Critical Incident is making subjective decisions. If the Officer is involved the Officer has some sort of stake in the situation, either his/her safety, public safety or other factors. I don't think you can be a stake holder and be objective. Therefore, the only objective reasonable Officer would be on the review panel or board. At the review board level every Officer will have different experiences. A prime example is case law for creating reasonable suspicion or Probable cause the Officer's training and experience come in to play in their decision making. If you board is full of Officer's who are well versed in case law and policy, I think you will get the best outcome. I have recently been too numerous management schools, I have found a lot of people promoted to levels of decision making that only have Degrees (doesn't matter what in) and office time. How can this be considered Objectively reasonable when the decision makers have never been tasked with making force decision in the field their self's. I have also found that many Officers do not receive adequate training on case law and do not seek it out on their own. It is like playing a game and not knowing the rules. These same Officer's eventually make and adopt policies not knowing if they align with case law. I think that law Enforcment as a whole has to blame itself for a lot of our problems simply by not being a student of case law then putting it into action whether it be on patrol or on a review board.
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Monday, 22 July 2024

The CIR Team has logged thousands of hours of continued and focused education in the field of Human Behavioral Sciences as it relates to law enforcement and has also logged thousands of hours of documented instruction time with multiple law enforcement entities as instructors, lecturers and authors.