Convey Behavioral Expectations To Lower The Excessive Force Risks

Written exclusively for My Community Workplace for Government

An Oregon city settled a lawsuit filed against the police department after an officer fatally shot a woman during a traffic stop. The family of the woman filed the lawsuit, and alleged that the police violated the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by using excessive force.

According to the lawsuit, the family of the deceased woman met with a police officer and informed him of their concern for their daughter, who was a diagnosed schizophrenic and had not been taking her medications for over a month. The officer entered the information into the department's system, but the family claims the officer responding to the traffic stop did not take steps to access the information from the system.

Although the district attorney determined the officer's actions as a lawful use of force, the insurance company overseeing the lawsuit decided to seek settlement. As part of the settlement, the city agreed to pay the family $4.55 million, as well as make several changes to the police department's operating procedures. These include, reviewing and revising its use-of-force policy and accountability processes; providing officer training on using the minimum amount of force necessary to achieve their legal purpose; and regularly reporting on all incidents that involve a use of force. Jordyn Brown "Fatal traffic stop shooting leads to Springfield paying $4.55M, review of police use of force" (Jul. 21, 2020).


Commentary and Checklist

The Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution secures the right of a citizen to be “secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures,” and any violation of this security must have probable cause behind it.

Although the police department in the above case maintains the decision to settle was not an admission of officer misconduct, the situation likely involved some conduct that could be viewed as conflicting with established practices.

Like any other workplace environment, law enforcement leaders must clearly convey behavior expectations through policies, procedures and training, and thoroughly address and correct any employee that violates those expectations.

The following suggestions can help your city limit the risk of a police officer using excessive force:

  • Implement an incremental force policy for police officers to follow.
  • In the incremental force policy, give specific examples of actions that would justify the various levels of force used.
  • Create a complaint process for citizens to report incidents of excessive force without fear of retribution.
  • Require regular diversity and anti-racial bias trainings
  • Use body, cruiser, and other cameras to record arrests
  • Investigate thoroughly all reports of excessive force.
  • In extreme cases or where there is an accusation of wide-spread abuse, consider using an impartial, outside investigator.
  • Consistently discipline police officers that use excessive force.
  • Consider demotion for any officer that retaliates against a complainant or attempts to "cover up" a charge of excessive force.
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