Use of force continuum

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A use of force continuum is a standard that provides law enforcement officials and security officers (such as police officers, probation officers, or corrections officers) with guidelines as to how much force may be used against a resisting subject in a given situation. In some ways it is similar to the United States Marine Corps' escalation of force (EOF). The purpose of these models is to clarify, both for officers and citizens, the complex subject of use of force by law enforcement officers. They are often central parts of law enforcement agencies' use of force policies. Although various criminal justice agencies have developed different models of the continuum, there is no universal standard model.[1]Generally, each different agency will have their own use of force policy. Some agencies may separate some of the hand-to-hand based use of force. For example, take-downs and pressure point techniques may be one step before actual strikes and kicks. Also, for some agencies the use of aeresol pepper spray and electronic control devices (TASER) may fall into the same category as take-downs, or the actual strikes.

The first examples of use of force continuum were developed in the 1980s and early 1990s.[2] Early models were depicted in various formats, including graphs, semicircular "gauges", and linear progressions. Most often the models are presented in "stair step" fashion, with each level of force matched by a corresponding level of subject resistance, although it is generally noted that an officer need not progress through each level before reaching the final level of force. These progressions rest on the premise that officers should escalate and de-escalate their level of force in response to the subject's actions.[3]

Although the use of force continuum is used primarily as a training tool for law officers, it is also valuable with civilians, such as in criminal trials or hearings by police review boards. In particular, a graphical representation of a use of force continuum is useful to a jury when deciding whether an officer's use of force was reasonable.[4]

Example model[edit]

While the specific progression of force varies considerably (especially the wide gap between empty hand control and deadly force) among different agencies and jurisdictions, one example of a general model cited in a U.S. government publication on use of force is shown below.[5]

  1. Physical presence --- depending on the totality of the circumstances, a call/situation may require additional officers or an on scene officers may request assistance in order to gain better control of the situation and gain more safety for themselves. Depending on the circumstances of the situation: for example, how many people are on scene with the officer - a larger presence may be required. However, if 10 officers arrive at a scene with only a single suspect, the suspect may perceive he is under arrest; as a large police presence can constitute an arrest based on the suspect's perceptions.
  2. Verbal commands
  3. Empty-hand submission techniques, PPCT - Pressure Point Control Tactics
  4. Intermediate weapons (e.g. baton, pepper spray, Taser, beanbag rounds, Mace (spray), etc.)
  5. Lethal force.

To illustrate how different agencies may use differing models for the same purpose, the U.S. Navy teaches a six-step model: Officer presence, Verbal commands, Soft controls, Hard controls, Intermediate Weapons, and Lethal force. Hard controls includes the use of tools such as hand-cuffs, while soft controls equates to empty hand above, describing techniques where the officer must engage a resisting detainee. When escalating, voluntary submission to cuffs is a viable way to prevent the need for empty hand submission techniques which place the officer and the detainee at physical risk. When de-escalating, hard controls (i.e.: cuffs and isolation in the rear seat of a cruiser) gives officers a reasonable and achievable goal after altercation with a detainee during which higher levels of force may have been required.

Reasonableness standard[edit]

The United States Supreme Court, in the case of Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, (1989), held that when engaged in situations where the use of force is necessary to effect an arrest, or to protect an officer's life or that of another, a law enforcement officer must act as other reasonable officers would have acted in a similar, tense, rapidly evolving situation.[6] Such situations, once known as use of force incidents, are now commonly referred to as response to resistance incidents, because a law enforcement officer must respond to resistance offered by another. In order to determine what actions officers find reasonable in similar situations, some experts utilize surveys with law enforcement officers, who are provided with certain scenarios to determine what actions they would take if placed in certain situations. Experts such as Samuel Faulkner, former instructor at the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy, not only surveys police officers, he has spoken to and surveyed, civilian review boards, high school and college government classes, Rotary Club and Kiwanis Clubs, Optimist Clubs, emergency managers, and even some chapters of the ACLU. Knowing what other officers and citizens deem reasonable helps to craft a solid response to resistance continuum.[7]


  1. ^ Stetser, 2001, p. 36.
  2. ^ Stetser, 2001, pp. 36-37.
  3. ^ Stetser, 2001, p.38.
  4. ^ Grossi, 2um006.
  5. ^ Garner and Maxwell, p. 37.
  6. ^ Faulkner, S. (2007). Response to resistance- Defining what is objectively reasonable. Retrieved from:
  7. ^ Faulkner, S. (2007). Response to resistance - Defining what is objectively reasonable. Retrieved from:


Marine Corps

See also[edit]

External links[edit]