Understanding The Use Of Force Continuum For Police

Criminal Justice Journal

Understanding The Use Of Force Continuum For Police

Entry-level law enforcement positions to understand the concept and issues surrounding what we call “Force Continuum.

The force continuum is an essential concept within law enforcement agencies, especially for the people who are aspiring for a position within a law enforcement agency. You might be wondering what the force continuum is. To begin with, we must clear the concept of continuum force. The force continuum or continuum of force is a model which defines the use of police force according to different situations. The police officers are authorized to use force in different situations to make it more straightforward. The situation’s intensity will define how much the force can be used. For example, the force used to handle a mob is different from that used to handle a man trying to commit suicide. 

The new entrants to the law enforcement agencies must understand the concepts of the force continuum so that they use the force accordingly when they are on their professional responsibilities. The force continuum police are divided into six different levels. These levels are from level one to level six. Depending on the situation in which the police officer is, the levels may vary, and a police officer is the one who will be deciding theforce-continuum adequate amount of force to be used.


So, without any further due, let us jump straight to the level of force continuum so that you can have an idea about how these levels of force work. Make sure to focus on each and every level because you will be practicing these levels of force very soon.


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  • Level 1: Presence Of An Officer

police-use-of-force-continuumThe first in police levels of force is the presence of an officer. The mere presence of a uniform officer is sufficient to control a situation. This level implies that the presence of a police officer at a location ensures that the situation does not further escalate. The mere presence of an officer at a location can also deter a crime. Think of a situation in which a street fight had occurred, and police have arrived. The fighting people would stop as soon as they saw the officer.

At this level, the officer does not need to use force, the gestures and body language of an officer shall be sufficient to control the situation and deter crime. In the levels of force continuum, level one is best, and the officers are taught to prevent crime using this level of force.

  • Level 2: Verbal Commands

The second level of use of force continuum is verbal commands. Imagine being a law enforcement officer. Your presence and your verbal commands shall be able to prevent or deter the crime. The second level of the use of force continuum can only be practiced if the first level is not giving you the desired results.

There are different verbal commands that you can use. Keep in mind that these commands need to be directive and robust. They should provoke action in the people, and the action shall be such that it prevents the crime. Some of the examples of verbal commands that can be used are:

  1. Do not move!
  2. Be quiet!
  3. Listen to me!
  4. Let me see your ID
  5. You are being arrested!

The way you give commands is as important as the wording of it. Have strong body language when giving the commands. Start politely but make your tone harsher if the situation is not controlled through a soft tone. If you are selected for a position with any law enforcement agency, you will get extensive training on using verbal commands efficiently.

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  • Level 3: Empty Hand Control

The third level in the police use of force continuum list is “Empty hands control.” There will be times when words alone will not be sufficient to control the situation, and it will be necessary to use force. The police officers can get physical if the situation is not being controlled through verbal commands. Level three is the first level where the police officer gets in physical contact with suspects or culprits to prevent crime. You might be asked to answer this question in your police interview so keep this in mind.

The empty hand control allows the police officer to get physical without using a weapon. There are two different empty hand control techniques: the first one is soft empty hand techniques, and the second one is hard empty hand techniques. Let us discuss them both!

  • Soft Empty hand techniques

Soft empty hand techniques are used to apply minimal force to control the target; this involves applying force on the pressure points and using techniques to take down the target. The general rule of thumb for soft empty hand techniques is that the force shall be used so that there are minimal chances of injury or damage to the target.

  • Hard Empty hand techniques

This level of force involves using a hard hand on the target. The force might involve kicking, punching, and other striking techniques. Hard hand empty techniques shall only be used when the soft hand techniques are not helping you achieve your desired targets.

  • Level: 4 Pepper Spray, Baton, Taser

This level of use of force is practiced when the suspect is threatening the police officer, and the goal of this level is to bring him/her under control. Before moving to the fourth level of use of force, the police officer has to practice the third level of use of force, and if it does not give results, the officers can use the fourth level.

use-of-force-continuumPepper spray causes irritation to the eyes, and it is used as a tool for this level of use of force. The spray also causes the person to lack breath, which brings him under the officer’s control. There was a time when pepper spray was considered a helpful tool, but with the passage of time, it has lost its importance because of ineffectiveness, especially in intoxicated people.

Owing to the decrease in the importance of pepper spray, other proper instruments were developed. A baton, a thick wooden stick, was used to strike the people. Striking the stick hard can immobilize the person, thereby allowing the police officers to arrest him/her.

Another instrument of use of power in level four is the Taser, a lightweight electric device that produces a high voltage current of 50,000 volts. With the help of wires attached to the Taser, the current can be passed at a non-contact level. Once the current is passed, the suspect gets down, allowing the officer to arrest him/her. As per the opinion of experts, a Taser is the best device that can be used in level four of use of force.

  • Level 5: Use Of Less Lethal Weapons

Level five is the new mechanism of use of force recently deployed by most law enforcement agencies. It allows the police officers to use less-lethal weapons to control the suspect. Less lethal weapons have been primarily used in protests, riots, and anti-state activities. One of the examples of less-lethal weapons can be tear gas used on the protestors to disperse them.

There are three conditions when lethal weapons are most appropriate to be used, these conditions are:

  • When the use of lethal force is not appropriate, such as in protests or for controlling the mob.
  • When the lethal force is available as a backup
  • Lethal force is justified, but it can cause much collateral damage.
  • Level 6: Deadly Force

6th level is that of use of deadly force. It is justified only if the police officer has significant reason to believe that the suspect poses a life threat to the officer or anyone else. In most cases, peace officers are encountered with situations in which it is necessary to use firearms. There have been several cases in which the police have misused their authority. Using force is out of the question, and it is an integral part of the police force. However, an officer’s assessment of a threat has been questioned many times.


Final word

These are six levels of force that you will use throughout your job in a police department. Get yourself familiarized with all of them, and try to draw a line between them. Know where the limits start and where does it end for each level. Before you enter the academy, you will have to clear the police oral board interview, try preparing for it, and get on hand on the use of force; this will help you answer the questions more efficiently and get qualified for your desired position.


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