Authorizing Appropriate Use of Force
The expert testimony, research, scholarship, and lived experience collected by the Commission revealed the following:
- Following investigation of the Ferguson Police Department, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a report on March 4, 2015, which noted that Ferguson’s police sometimes violate citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights through the use of excessive force (DOJ, 2015). The DOJ’s report noted instances of unnecessary uses of Tasers, canines, and other force in the region, escalating rather than defusing tense situations. According to the DOJ report, “[t]he overwhelming majority of force–almost 90%–is used against African Americans” (DOJ, 2015). The report also noted that the Ferguson Police Department’s use-of-force review system is ineffective:officers’ use of force often goes unreported, and even when it is, meaningful review by supervisors is rare (DOJ, 2015).
- The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) has raised the issue that there is no nationally recognized definition for “use of force,” making it difficult to determine whether a specific instance of force was justified or excessive (NIJ, 2015). No national database exists, much less one in Missouri, to track all officer-involved shootings or excessive uses of force (NIJ, 2015).
- In Tennessee v. Garner, the U.S. Supreme Court addressed the use of deadly force against a fleeing unarmed suspect. The Court held that police officers may not use deadly force against such a suspect to prevent the suspect’s escape unless the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a threat of death or serious bodily injury to the officer or others (Tennessee v. Garner, 1985).
- In Missouri, police officers’ use of force in making an arrest is outlined in Chapter 563 of the Missouri Revised Statutes (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 563.046). Deviating from Tennessee v. Garner, § 563.046 permits an officer to use deadly force to effect an arrest where the officer “reasonably believes that such use of deadly force is immediately necessary to effect the arrest” and also “reasonably believes that the person to be arrested … has committed or attempted to commit a felony” (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 563.046.3(2)(a)).
These findings prompted the Commission to draft several recommendations calling for revisions to and training in police departments’ use-of-force policies, in an effort to eliminate excessive uses of force against citizens and improve citizens’ trust and confidence in the police.
An open letter to Mayor Lyda Krewson from Rebeccah Bennett and Zachary Boyers, Co-chairs of Forward Through Ferguson, on the public safety opportunity in front of our region. Click here to download a pdf of the open letter. Mayor Krewson, The retirement of Police Chief Sam Dotson represents a new day for public safety in St. Louis….
Suggested Reading List
Department of Justice (DOJ). (2015). Investigation of the Ferguson Police Department. United States Department of Justice. Retrieved from http://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/opa/press-releases/attachments/2015/03/04/ferguson_police_department_report.pdf
President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. (2015). Final report of President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. Retrieved from http://www.cops.usdoj.gov/policingtaskforce
- Department of Justice. (2015). Use of force. COPS, United States Department of Justice. Retrieved from http://www.cops.usdoj.gov/default.asp?Item=1374
- Gold, E. (2013). The case for procedural justice:Fairness as a crime prevention tool. COPS, United States
- Department of Justice. Retrieved from http://cops.usdoj.gov/html/dispatch/09-2013/fairness_as_a_crime_prevention_tool.asp
- Missouri Revised Statutes. Chapter 563. Retrieved from:http://www.moga.mo.gov/mostatutes/stathtml/56300000461.HTML
- National Institute of Justice (NIJ). (2009). The use of force continuum. Retrieved from http://www.nij.gov/topics/law-enforcement/officer-safety/use-of-force/Pages/continuum.aspx
- National Institute of Justice (NIJ). (2015). Police use of force. Retrieved from http://www.nij.gov/topics/law-enforcement/officer-safety/use-of-force/pages/welcome.aspx
- Police Executive Research Forum. (2014). Legitimacy and procedural justice:A new element of police leadership.” (2014). Retrieved from http://www.policeforum.org/assets/docs/Free_Online_Documents/Leadership/legitimacy%20and%20procedural%20justice%20-%20a%20new%20element%20of%20police%20leadership.pdf
- Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1 (1985). Retrieved from http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-supreme-court/471/1.html