Police Abuse

New Baltimore Use of Force Policy Doesn't Really Work Without 'Reasonable' Officers

Detailed policy leaves much to the discretion of "reasonable" officers.

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A. Currell/flickr

The Baltimore Police Department unveiled a new use of force policy, crafted, the department said, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, the NAACP of Baltimore, and local attorneys, both prosecutors and public defenders.

The new document represents the first major revision of the use of force policy since 2003. Among the more important changes, all types of the use of force (including flashing a weapon at a suspect) now requires notifying a supervisor. The policy also stresses de-escalation, a "duty to intercede" by officers who see other cops use excessive force, and a duty to provide medical assistance when necessary or when requested by the suspect.

"Recognizing that mental illness, post-traumatic stress disorder, alcohol and/or drug addictions, or other health issues can cause individuals to behave erratically," the policy reads, "members must try to de-escalate situations and minimize or avoid using force altogether, when possible, to prevent injuries to the subject, the public and the member."

The document is available via the Baltimore Sun but does not yet appear to be on the Baltimore Police Department's website. The BPD has not had an update on its news site since November 2015.

The policy outlines four types of aggression targets of police action could exhibit—passive resistance, active resistance, active aggression, and aggravated aggression. Lunging toward a police officer counts as "active aggression."

As usual, "reasonableness of a particular use of force is based on the totality of the circumstances known by the officer at the time of the use of force," according to the policy, which refers to the reasonable judgment of police officers (or "members" in the document's vernacular) so often as to render itself worthless. "Reasonable must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene," the use of force policy document declares, insisting the "reasonableness standard is an objective one… without regard to the member's underlying intent or motivation." Later: "Reasonableness is not capable of precise definition or mechanical application" and "must allow for the fact that members are often forced to make split-second decisions-in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, dynamic and rapidly evolving."

Were Baltimore police officers all reasonable people, a simpler use of force policy would suffice. But Baltimore's hiring policies, informed by the police union and cop-friendly big city politicians and hardly unique, don't guarantee reasonable officers. Coupled with privileges extended to cops outside of the deference of the use of force policy—things like the 10-day waiting period to talk about a deadly use of force incident—this contributes to much of the problem of excessive police violence. Baltimore's new use of force policy describes three levels of force. All require notifying a supervisor, but documentation is required only in the two lower levels, a function of the privileges within the Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights that police reformers in Maryland have been unable to reform or repeal.

The use of force policy permits the use of deadly force when "immediately necessary to protect a member or another person from imminent danger of death or serious physical injury." Deadly force can also be used on fleeing suspects, provided that the officer believes "it is necessary," that the suspect has committed or is committing a felony involving physical injury or death, that the suspect's escape would threaten the cop or another person, and that, when possible, the officer "has given verbal warning to the suspect."

"When practical, a member should identify himself/herself as a law enforcement officer and state his/her intention to use deadly force before using a friearm or employing deadly force," the policy reads.

The policy prohibits deadly force to "subdue persons whose actions are a threat only to property" or "against persons whose conduct is a threat only to themselves." Choke holds are prohibited "unless deadly force is authorized." The policy prohibits warning shots and cops from shooting from or at moving vehicles except "to counter an imminent threat" or when a cop is "unavoidably in the path of the vehicle and cannot move safely."

The new policy also deals with "dangerous animals," permitting the use of deadly force against animals when "alternative options are not available or would likely be ineffective," directing cops to look for dangerous animals in pre-raid surveillance as well as to develop "reasonably contingency plans" for dealing with dangerous animals.

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  1. Among the more important changes, all types of the use of force (including flashing a weapon at a suspect) now requires notifying a supervisor.

    “Oh, hey, Captain, I almost forgot. A couple of weeks ago I had to rough a guy up. Another beer?”

  2. “Find a few white people to beat up, so we can rebut claims of racial discrimination.”

    Wait, that’s not in the guidelines?

    1. Do you mean white-white or do white-hispanics count?

    2. You can bet it is!

  3. “I was in fear.Of- err, for, ummm, you know….”

    1. “I will be accepting their recommendations,” Ms. Lynch said in an appearance at the Aspen Ideas Festival. She said that “the case will be resolved by the same team that has been working on it from the beginning.”

      1. A Conversation on 21st Century Policing, Civil Rights, and Criminal Justice Reform
        9:00 am – 10:00 am MDT on Friday, July 1, 2016
        From her national community policing tour to help improve the relationship between local law enforcement and communities they serve, to transgender rights, to her bold stances on criminal justice reform, Attorney General Loretta Lynch epitomizes the Obama administration’s end-of-tenure posture of not shying away from tough issues. Join us for this very special hour with the 83rd ? and the very first African American woman ? attorney general of the United States.
        Loretta Lynch, Jonathan Capehart

        Ohhhh, he must have asked the tough questions.

        1. Sharing, just cause:

          America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America
          10:20 am – 11:20 am MDT on Friday, July 1, 2016
          America’s problem with race has deep roots. With the country’s foundation tied to the near extermination of one race of people and the enslavement of another, racism is truly our nation’s original sin. And as recent tragedies confirm, we continue to suffer from this legacy of bigotry. The old patterns of white privilege are colliding with the changing demographics of a diverse nation. How they can we work together to overcome the embedded racism in America, galvanizing a movement to cross the bridge to a new America? (Book signing to follow.)
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          1. The old patterns of white privilege are colliding with the changing demographics of a diverse nation. How they can we work together to overcome the embedded racism in America, galvanizing a movement to cross the bridge to a new America?

            Kill whitey.

    2. What irritates me most: How the hell am I supposed to add a “-gate” suffix to this??

      1. Tarmacgate?

        1. There is absolutely no ring to that, though. 🙁

  4. Assuming that’s a real billboard, you’ve already got a seriously fucked-up situation when the rank-and-file are so openly insubordinate that they can talk shit and know they’re in no danger of getting slapped down. Somebody needs to do some serious slapping down and get the troops back in line. You can’t possibly run a city where the mayor and city council can be openly criticized by the workforce like that. If the mayor can’t call the police chief in and tell him that shit ain’t gonna fly or he’ll find any available excuse to dismiss his ass and can’t get the city council to back him, you ain’t got a mayor and a city council, you’ve got a police chief running the city.

    1. You see who paid for that billboard? Same people that have made it impossible to do anything about insubordination.

      Also, none of the police officers are actually saying those things; it’s a private organization, their union, saying it.

  5. I wonder which document carries more weight, this thing or the union contract.

  6. Listen- the care and feeding of State Secrets is a complicated process, not easily understood by civilians. Whatever you may think you know; trust me, it’s wrong. Mrs Clinton has devoted her entire life to the service of this nation, and a couple of what barely equate with missed fly balls cannot possibly disqualify her from the Office of the Presidency.

    Now shut up.

  7. The new policy also deals with “dangerous animals,” permitting the use of deadly force against animals when “alternative options are not available or would likely be ineffective”

    at least they are still authorized to shoot our dogs

  8. Paid for by the FOP

      1. Fuck off Pigs

  9. “Recognizing that mental illness, post-traumatic stress disorder, alcohol and/or drug addictions, or other health issues can cause individuals to behave erratically,

    It’s good to know Ballmer PD has discovered this.

    1. So the Baltimore PD won’t be hiring them, then?

  10. As usual, “reasonableness of a particular use of force is based on the totality of the circumstances known by the officer at the time of the use of force,” according to the policy

    If that’s the standard, then it should be the standard for any citizen’s use of force. If the cops think that would be unreasonable or lead to excessive uses of force on the part of non-cops, then it’s simply not reasonable for cops to operate under that standard either.

    1. “or should have been known” should be in there if it’s a true objective reasonableness standard.

    2. Its weird how refusing to stop and talk with a police officer or to refuse to pull over until in a safe and public place is never open to my judgement of the totality of the circumstances as I knew them at the time.

  11. The policy also stresses de-escalation, a “duty to intercede” by officers who see other cops use excessive force, and a duty to provide medical assistance when necessary or when requested by the suspect.

    In other words introducing policies normal people learn in elementary school and prospective LEOs should understand by the end of the first week at the academy require a major revision to current policy.

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  13. “When practical, a member should identify himself/herself as a law enforcement officer and state his/her intention to use deadly force before using a friearm or employing deadly force,” the policy reads.

    Yeah.

    BLAMBLAMBLAMBAMBLAMBLAMBLAMBAMBLAMBLAMBLAMBAM

    “Police- stop and put your hands where I can see them.”

    1. “when” not “if”, so if it isn’t practical until after the suspect is down the logical condition is satisfied.

      1. (not that “if” would be any more acceptable. shouldn’t really be any conditional there. “Members must identify, and when practical, state intention to use deadly force” would be a better construction to convey a concept that should not have to be conveyed in the first place)

  14. Lunging toward a police officer counts as “active aggression.”

    Do they have to yell “He’s comin’ right for us!” before shooting?

  15. Nothing I read above would in any way hold any cop responsible for anything. In fact it codifies their right (and apparent proclivity) to kill anybody or their dog anytime they think it’s “reasonable”. Complete and total horseshit. Why bother?

    1. Why bother? Because now the policy is clear: Comply or Die.

      Don’t bother calling ahead for clarification for policy regarding disabled family members, it’s the same for them.

  16. You know, if the Baltimore police and firemen actually felt that way they can, I don’t know, quit.

    But nah, it makes more sense to make residents and visitors fear for their safety, drying up revenue and making it harder for the city to meet whatever demands it is they have.

  17. insisting the “reasonableness standard is an objective one? without regard to the member’s underlying intent or motivation.” Later: “Reasonableness is not capable of precise definition or mechanical application” and “must allow for the fact that members are often forced to make split-second decisions-in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, dynamic and rapidly evolving.”

    Apparently the authors of this policy don’t know what “objective” and “subjective” mean.

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