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Mission: Success – Three tiers of force
By Tracy E. Barnhart
Published: 10/01/2007

Mission: Success – Three tiers of force
by Tracy Barnhart







The Use of Force The use of force as it pertains to corrections and law enforcement is a cloudy and, unfortunately, not well defined animal. When it comes to use of force training, I don’t understand why there is not more focus throughout the country on fundamentals, legal allowances and court cases and less on administrative strategies of what not to do. It seems that this issue is probably the most feared and has put more officers on the street or behind the very bars they patrol than any other function they will perform. In a recent study it was found that officers are more afraid of being sued than they are of being assaulted while on duty.

The law enforcement and corrections use of force is an awesome power delegated to you by the society you are sworn to protect. How and when that force is used can become a source of great controversy, not only externally, but internally as well. So what is force? It the exertion of power to compel or restrain the behavior of another. Physical force implies the touching or prodding of a resistor to comply with the state agents’ demands. Non-physical force implies the use of threats or other verbalization to gain voluntary compliance. The bottom line is that the use of force ultimately is “Controlled Violence.”

In this article, I will give a three tier, step by step guide to the use of force that should provide the necessary determining factors and protections. Proper utilization of force by law enforcement and COs is one of the most critical concerns in our profession. While the courts may take months to receive evidence and deliberate over the legality of our decisions, the reality for the law enforcement officer is that decisions must be made rapidly and sometimes immediately. Improper choices of control techniques can result in extremely negative consequences. The political climate in which we operate is not a friendly one. We can however, improve the odds of our physical and legal well being. You may not be able to control the situations you find yourself in, but you can control your responses to those situations.

Tier One: Reasoning


First and foremost is the foundation to use force. Were your orders, requests or demands legal, moral and ethical? You cannot build a house on a weak foundation that will quickly erode or can be easily disintegrated by an attorney. Force is unavoidable in our profession, and we must understand that our abilities, personalities and reactions must not impede on the moral, legal, and ethical principals involved.

If the level of force is justified, the officer may use anything capable to deliver the necessary force. Potential injury to the aggressor should not deter the necessary lawful use of force. The individual aggressor always dictates the amount of force to be utilized; therefore they are responsible for any injury that may occur while resisting. It is incumbent on the officer to overcome resistance quickly, and minimize potential for injury, or degree of injury, to themselves or the offender.

A correctional and law enforcement officer is clearly given a fair amount of latitude in their decisions to use force upon an individual. Within that scope of duty, nothing says that all uses of force actions are improper. The use of force, whether justified or not, can have grave effects on the individual officer, the agency, the state, and the community. The true test of reason is to ask yourself, “Do I get to use force; or do I have to use force?” The answer must be obvious.

Tier Two: Verbalization


Why do most criminals and inmates become violent? They want something, and they think they can get it by becoming violent or utilizing intimidation or manipulation. Your initial verbalization should be to slow the conflict event and attempt to calm the individual while giving them clear direction. All verbalization must be clearly and plainly given and attempts should be made to reasonably be understood.

Do not give offenders a reason to go off, but do give them many reasons not to. Give them options to consider. Utilize the acronym L.E.A.P.S. (Listen, Empathize, Ask, Paraphrase, and Summarize.) Do not challenge them, insult or disrespect them, and do not deny that the situation may go bad and get physical.

Give those in the situation choices so that it appears that offenders have some level of control. At this phase verbalization needs to involve coordination between assisting officers and requesting additional officers to show that force may be utilized if necessary. Remember, the individual dictates the amount of force necessary to accomplish your orders, requests and demands.

Do not take the situation personally, it is your job to enforce rules, regulations and laws, and it is their job to defy, circumvent and rebel against them. The moment you take it personally you have lost the battle as it pertains to the legal, moral and ethical foundation of using force.

Tier Three: Restraint
Once all other verbal de-escalation and reasoning techniques have been attempted and ramifications and consequences have been communicated, I will always ask an offender if there is anything I can say or do to get they to comply with my directions. You have now thrown down the verbal gauntlet, leaving the peaceable resolution totally in their hands. Hopefully they will understand that you have attempted a peaceful resolution to the problem and they will inform you of their true intentions and a reasonable option for a solution.

The bottom line at all times is to gain their voluntary compliance to your request and to prevent using of unnecessary force. At this time officers need to show their collective intentions to utilize force while attempting to gain voluntary compliance. Touching the individual will immediately result in their true intention to either resist, flee or submit to your commands. Placing your hands on a shoulder or arm in an attempt to guide or escort them will be a pivotal moment in the encounter.

Some individuals will want or need to fight and may not want to be verbally de-escalated into voluntary compliance. Upon your touch you will feel this violent intention by the tensing, twisting or pulling of their bodies. Physical intervention should not be a ruse, nor should the repetition of verbalization for extended periods of time. At this point you have been given no other option but to utilize force in order to gain compliance.

The escort needs to be professional, slow, gentle and controlled with continued verbalization and direction along with compliments upon submission and cooperation. If resistance results rapidly, restraining techniques must be utilized to prevent injury. Constant verbalization must ensue to provide direction of how the individual can comply and cause the restraint to end.

Upon securing the individual, the controlled violence must be turned off like a light switch. This may be difficult, but in order to prevent wrong doing, officers must become as professional after the restraint as they were before it occurred. After all, we are law enforcement professionals, not thugs with violent, playful, punitive agendas.

Tracy E. Barnhart is a Marine combat veteran of Desert Storm / Desert Shield. In 1992 he became an Ohio police officer. He was the youngest officer to attain the rank of Staff Lieutenant. He became Chief of Police for the Village of Edison, Ohio, and obtained his Ohio Peace Officers Training Commission as a unit instructor teaching several law enforcement and correctional courses at the state academy.

In 2000, Barnhart joined the Ohio Department of Youth Services at the Marion Juvenile Corrections Facility, a maximum security male correctional facility housing more than 320 offenders. Barnhart works with male felony offenders ages 16 to 21 with violent criminal convictions and aggressive natures.


Other articles by Barnhart:
The survivor mentality, 9/4/07

Combat for the real world, 8/10/07

Mission Success: When the “never happens” happens to you, 7/24/07



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  6. Gene Atherton on 11/15/2007:

    I think it is an excellant article with many of the important principles of successful application of physical force well stated. I agree that excellant training builds confidence, and helps officers be confident in managing inmate behavior that may lead to a use of force. It is my opinion that officer confidence in the use of physical force also is determined by how leadership and the criminal justice agency manages each event. Process of document, investigation, and leadership philosophy makes a major difference in staff attitude.

  7. murfunit on 10/05/2007:

    I must comment that this article is thought provoking. Use of Force is definitely a response to something that has gone egregiously wrong in the Correctional scenario. In the expanse of microseconds a professionally trained officer must respond to contain and stop a violent scenario from escalating. The decision to lawfully go ahead with force must be second nature based on the skills and training that the officer has received from "the job." Then once the situation is contained and controlled the officer must literally stop the force instantly. Now that's a heck of a recipe for stress but Uniformed Correctional Officers go through this exercise everyday, everywhere. The common thread to lawful deployment of force is training. The skills inherent in use of force training must almost become organic in the Correctional Professional. The topic of "when to" or "if I" or "should I" use force is hotly debated and scrutinized daily because it is such a dramatic response to a scenario requiring its use. I say all of us should keep the scrutiny and the debates going while we keep training. It keeps the Use of Force process honest. Ultimately our Profession spends a lot of time seeking alternatives to use of force and trains officers to look for signals in inmate behavior that can be addressed by violence diffusing methods. Many potentially violent scenarios have been quelled before getting to the use of force stage. This is indeed the most taxing part of being an officer when emotions, a natural part of anyone's make up, have to be placed aside to react professionally. Trust me, professional training makes all the difference in the world for the officer to be on top of his/her game and to respond, not react, lawfully. A very good article. John J. Murphy, Jr. Captain, NYC Department of Correction

  8. alytle on 10/03/2007:

    Mr. Barhart; As the mother of a TDCJ inmate, I want to thank you for your article " Mission: Success – Three tiers of force ". In my wide search of the internet, I have located many sites directed toward correctional officers, law enforcement officers...etc... but I have found very few concerning the family mambers and loved ones of inmates. I will not stand up and preach that my son was wrongfully convicted, my son made the choices that he made and he messed up. He is not a violent offender, and God willing he will get to come home in Feb. 08. My son chose to drink and drive, and almost took the life of his own son in the process. My son was man enough to admit guilt, regardless of the outcome, and that outcome was being sentenced to 4 years in the TDCJ system. I have read so many articles, and visited so many sites, that I had nightmares at night. You Sir have eased my mind at least a little, knowing that there are COs in the system that have and use common sense. Please don't take this as a negative comment toward correctional officers in general, I have spoken to many on-line and they have been a source of information. But, I have had several attack me for having the nerve to come to "their" site and ask questions. If I don't ask questions, then I have no idea about the facility that my son calls home. Thank you again Mr. Barnhart for a wonderful article. Mrs. A Lytle Texas


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