On Camera Use of Force

Today use of force is often on camera or in public view making subject control a controversial subject. With so many cell phones doubling as cameras, it's safest to assume that when you're involved in any physical altercation someone has you on camera. In many environs where use of force is necessary, you're in the presence and full view of the public. Often times even the families of the subject are present.

All of this creates a real need for understanding and balance between the safety of all concerned, the perception of those watching, and the hard evidence of the pictures that will invariably end up at court should a lawsuit ensue. The best way to handle these concerns is to simply do it right every time and assume always that the incident is on camera.

Make it your habit to do and say nothing that would embarrass you at court and you'll have no cause for undue concern. You also must understand the nature of subject control and be prepared to explain your actions in court.

Speaking for myself personally I do not ever wish to lay my hands on another human being in a negative manner. If they make this necessary then I assume the responsibility for my safety, their safety and the safety of the public. In other words, use of force is not a 50/50 proposition. If the other person has lost their self control or is of criminal intent, I now must take assertive actions to effect my escape or to take control of them and the situation until they return to their reason or have been formally arrested and placed in custody.

Incidentally I try whenever possible to get my use of force incidents on camera. And I try even harder to get all searches that I do on camera. If I have to do a cross-gender search I'll even get my partner to run the camera just so that I have that video for evidence. Getting what I actually did on camera is the best protection against false accusations I've ever been able to find.

This is not the time for hesitation let alone worrying if you're on camera. If you're going to do anything you must be 200% committed to your actions or they will fail and injuries to one or more parties will result. In other words, I will not "try" to escape. I will take action to powerfully ensure my freedom and safety.

In the event that I am in a position where I need to make an arrest I will effect such subject control measures as are necessary with proper and due consideration for all impacting factors. In other words, if it's not appropriate to strike I accept that to be the case and do something else. If striking is necessary and appropriate how hard am I going to hit my subject?

I've been asked this question at court and I'll give you here the same answer I give there:
"How hard am I going to hit the subject?"
"As hard as I can sir!"
"I wanted to effect a control sir. Hitting him more than once just looks like a beating. I didn't come here to beat this or any other person."

I've been to training where they've talked about a 20% strike, a 50% strike, etc. You know what? It comes back to what I said earlier. You're going to have 12 jurors sitting over there who've never been in an altercation. The defense would've made sure of that.

You start talking percentages of strikes, you're giving them too many questions in their minds and any good lawyer will jump all over this opportunity. "20% of what? Relative to what or whom? With your adrenaline pumping are you sure it was 20%? Maybe it was more..." Get the point?

Don't open the door to this type of cross examination. Deal with this type of attack as strongly in court as you do on the street. Make it polite and appropriate. Firm and final. Even people who've never been in a fight before...in fact especially those people, are going to raise an eyebrow the moment you start talking percentages of strikes.

They just know you're trying to put something over on them. So with respect to the trainers who teach this, my advice is to stay as far away from this as possible. Be honest and direct.

The premise for the use of force or subject control always comes back to a concern for safety of yourself or others. If you truly fear for someone's safety, your heart rate is rocketing, your adrenaline is pumping, now you expect the jury to believe you measured your strike?

No. You choose your target area to be both effective and safe and you strike as hard as you can. That's realistic. That's what any member of the jury would do if they feared for their safety or the safety of someone they cared for.

It's like reading a book without a dictionary. If you come to a word you don't understand you can keep reading, but a part of you is still stuck on the part you didn't get.

Don't leave a jury stuck on something they didn't get. You're the dictionary. Explain it to them. The defense lawyer isn't going to let you go into lengthy explanations, so use short, direct statements to answer the questions you're asked and paint a very clear picture of what you did and why. That's credible. That's realistic. That's acceptable.

Now you've got 12 jurors nodding their heads in agreement. You have no problems. If you make them raise an eyebrow you only get to do that so many times until they stop believing you. Of course, once you make them shake their heads you've lost.

Now, if you're willing to be that direct and that honest, what will a camera do except support any statement you may make? So now being on camera is your aid, not your concern. Now it's the defense who doesn't want those camera pictures brought in.

What if the Subject's Family are Present?

What if they are? What if the subject is a member of your family? What if family members are documenting the incident on camera? What's the difference? You see, when you get to court one of the things they are going to be trying to decide is whether what you did was reasonable given the circumstances.

One of the acid tests they'll use for that is to simply ask you,"If the subject had been your child, your grandchild, your parent, your sister, etc would you have done things any differently?" Careful now. Instinct is to say "Of course I would if it's my family". The reality for court is you cannot treat one person differently over another so your answer better be that you would've done the same thing. Otherwise don't do it!

In health care and medical settings in particular, you can have family members bring a subject into the emergency room (often these higher risk areas are on camera) then be it from drug abuse, or the subject being emotionally or mentally disturbed, the subject becomes physical and needs to be subdued. To put it bluntly, "Grandma is not going to be happy with you if she brought little Johnny in for you to help and now she watches you beat him."

What does this mean? It means that in most settings you're going to want to avoid things like closed fists, aggressive posturing, or swearing. Please. I don't care what your norm is on this, but a use of force situation is not the time to swear. This is the time to be the sweetest SOB on the planet. Such professionalism is very apparent in person and on camera.

You'll get more witnesses on your side that way and far fewer accusations against you. Name calling or any sort of verbal abuse belongs in the same category as swearing. No matter what you feel, be a professional. If you remember this you'll get to stay a professional longer.

If you train carefully most of what you do in terms of strikes and distractions can fall into the "concealed" category. Now, before your eyebrows go up...what am I talking about? What do I mean by "concealed strikes and distractions"?

I'm not talking about deliberately trying to hide anything, particularly when it comes to your reporting. If you did it, write it. Own it. Now it can't bite you or if it can, at least you've minimized any accusations against your intentions.

If you refer to a punch or a kick these would be classed as "open" strikes and readily identifiable on camera. If you refer to forearm pushes (your forearm pushes into soft areas of their body such as the side of the neck, floating ribs, etc) or body checks taking advantage of their momentum, not you charging into them. These would be considered "concealed strikes" as they are harder to discern in person or on camera.

Likewise, the digital manipulation pressure points can fall into the concealed category or the open category depending on the specifics of your application. The difference then? Open strikes are what anybody anywhere would stand up and say "ya you hit him". Concealed strikes most people simply miss seeing.

Grandma will not tolerate you punching little Johnny in the head after she brought him to you for help. But she knows when he's acting out and richly deserved that punch in the head. So if you for example block his punch and slide your forearm into the side of his neck and push him down grandma won't have a problem with that.

But what did you just do? A block is a strike, so you numbed his arm when he tried to strike you. (I'm not talking Karate blocking here folks) Then you slid your forearm into the side of his neck. What's that? That's a brachial origin stun, so now while he's stunned, dizzy, off balance, you can ground him (another form of concealed striking) and lock him up in a subject control.

So our subject, in essence, threw one punch at you and took three "hits". But were these hits intended to cause him any harm? Absolutely not. They were intended to distract and weaken him so that you could effect a humane control. This is professional use of force.

Now before we open the door to another misunderstanding am I saying that punches, kicks and head butts are not professional use of force? No. They are just in a much higher category. Hard to justify in some settings but as long as you can explain them (articulate) in terms of the circumstances of the incident, all of the impacting factors and the nature of the perceived threat then they're still part of your defensive tactics arsenal. Just high end and don't usually look good on camera.

So, whether your use of force is on camera or in full public view, whether it's a subject control scenario or a defensive tactics nightmare (lethal use of force), do what's appropriate, do all that you have to do, and no more than you have to do. Report it like you did it and sleep well my friend.

You've done what you were supposed to do.

Home Use of Force