If you really want to give yourself a headache, do as
I do – go on the Internet and read, read, read
about excessive force.  Allegations of excessive
force can go from obvious to hazy to clearly
unfounded.  The bottom line is this: every time you
apply force, you must be prepared and able to
explain exactly what led you to use force and that
your decision to use force was "reasonable" under
the prevailing circumstance(s).  Here's the tricky
part: Your description of the prevailing circumstance
(s) and reasonableness must be able to withstand
the scrutiny of hindsight.

Your police department's directive on use of force
reporting is going to have a lot to do with how you
report your uses of force.  Any police department
you join will have one of three types of policies
governing use of force reporting:

First Type:  This police department will consider
just about any type of force, no matter how
minimal, as a use of force incident requiring
reporting.  The directions and other criteria will be
voluminous and confusing.  The department's
efforts to address every question imaginable will
require ongoing changes and additions to the
reporting criteria.

Over time, this police department will see a
significant decrease in use of force incidents, not
because the reporting requirements are producing
kinder and gentler police officers, but, because its
police officers will simply omit any mention of use of
force where they believe the use of force is
In police work, a presumption of insignificance has a
way of itself becoming significant.  When you fail to
describe a use of force, another kind of
presumption will be made by others.  That
presumption will be that your failure to describe
your use of force shows that, by your own
determination, your initial perception of
circumstances leading you to use force was itself
unjustifiable.  Even worse, you may well be accused
of using force gratuitously without any regard for

Second Type:  In this police department, you may
not have a lot of direction on use of force
reporting.  What direction that does exist may be
adequate over a period of time; until, a use of force
incident occurs that exposes a real, alleged, or
perceived deficiency(s) in the reporting
requirements.  When this circumstance occurs, this
police department's reporting criteria will be in
danger of becoming one of the first type.

Third Type:  In this police department, the use of
force reporting directions and requirements have
achieved a perfect balance.  While anything is
possible, it's not likely that you'll join this police

The most important thing for you to always
remember is that use of force is going to be part of
what you do.  When you exercise use of force, it will
always be your responsibility to report, in writing, a
detailed account of that force with emphasis placed
on why you employed force.  If you're working in a
department where use of force reporting is required
for everything you can imagine, just do your best
to comply with all of its requirements.

Sometimes, a police department is its own worst
enemy.  In its zeal to ensure accountability, a police
department will often adopt policies and procedures
which are based on numbers alone and
counterproductive to reporting integrity.  For
instance, your department may require you to
undergo counseling by your commander if you
accumulate three (3) uses of force within a one (1)
year period.  Then, upon your fourth use of force
within that period, you'll be required to meet with a
departmental psychologist.  

Prepare yourself.  Sometimes things just get crazy.  
There's nothing wrong with accountability, tracking
and counseling; however, when anything is done by
numbers alone, true accountability will always be
elusive.  In the example I just cited, there's more to
uses of force than just numbers.  For example –
How many total arrests have you made in the
period in question?  What types of arrests are
involved?  How many and what type, if any, physical
injuries resulted from the uses of force including
injury(s) to you?

Your Report Narrative

Whenever you use force there's going to be an
arrest; unless, the suspect eludes arrest.  Never
the less, there's going to be a police report.  Don't
ever think for one instant that just because a
suspect eludes arrest after you've use force against
that suspect that you need not make a written
report of the incident with a description of any use
of force –
just remember two U.S. Border Patrol
Agents who didn't and wish they had.

Regardless of any additional reporting requirements
your department may have regarding force, the
most important description of your use of force
should always appear in the narrative of your police
report and statement of probable cause.  When use
of force is required after initial reporting has been
completed, i.e. transport, interrogation, etc., you
simply write a follow-up report to the original

One of the reasons some police departments resort
to extraordinary measures for use of force
reporting is some officers' inability, inattention, or
unwillingness to adequately articulate reasons for,
and descriptions of, use of force.  While inability can
always be addressed, inattention and unwillingness
are not that easy to address and correct.  When
you become a police officer, you're going to get a
lot of advice, and some of that advice is going to be
bad when it comes to an inherent condition among
police to skimp on detail.  You need to ask yourself
this question.  Do you want to describe your reason
(s) for using force, or do you want others to
describe your reason(s) after the fact?


When it comes to anything, what is reasonable to
one may not be reasonable to another.  When I
mentioned earlier about getting a headache from
reading about excessive force, it's the best way for
you to get a head start on understanding how
courts view reasonableness as it relates to use of
force.  Unlike previous generations of police officers,
you have the Internet at your fingertips and ever
increasing amounts of timely information on use of
force issues.

Deadly Force

Hopefully, you'll never have occasion to use deadly
force; however, should that circumstance occur,
you won't likely be required to submit any initial
reporting when serious injury or death results from
your use of deadly force.  While you could be
ordered to submit reporting under administrative
rules unrelated to your 5th amendment rights
against self-incrimination, it's unlikely that you'll be
required to do so.

Any use of force is a big deal.  Most people will
never understand what it's like to make split second
decisions regarding use of force; however, most
people will always view themselves as experts when
it comes to evaluating your split second decisions in
hindsight.  Never forget that how you describe the
reasons for those decisions is just as important as
the decisions themselves.
Every use of force incident by a police officer is
unique.   It's unique because every use of force
incident will have its own set of facts that dictate
why you use force and to what level you apply or
escalate force.  This circumstance is rarely, if ever,
understood by your critics and other self-styled
experts.  In fairness to your perennial critics, police
officers frequently fail to clearly articulate, in
writing, their perceptions of circumstances at the
point when they apply force.
Use of Force
"...the most important description of your use
of force should always appear in the narrative
of your police report and statement of
probable cause." ~ Barry M. Baker
Copyright © 2019  Barry M. Baker