Use of force by police vs. relationship with the community

Police policies and practices are being scrutinized across the nation. Police officers have guidelines they have to abide by when it comes to use of force.

Heath Atkinson is a Recruit Training Officer for the Little Rock Police Department. He has been with the force for 12 years. Atkinson says officers go through extensive training to prevent overuse of physical force.

There are five levels to the types of force officers can use. Atkinson says what officers end up using depends on the person they encounter.

"An individual, for whatever reason, they are actually the ones that decide what level of force I go to," Atkinson said.

For more powerful tactics like tasers and gun usage, there are guidelines for that, too.

"There actually are restrictions on where you can deploy the taser," Atkinson said. "Our preferred area is the back. Large muscle groups, things like that, because it actually works off of muscle. "

"We try to avoid the chest area to avoid any conflict with heart to dart distance, so we don't have situations of cardiac arrest and things like that," Atkinson said.

The most talked about method is deadly force, like the use of guns.

"Nothing is really off limits. We primarily teach center mass or head area," Atkinson said. "It minimizes the chance that I'm going to miss and it's a good area to hit because it's a large target area."

The relationship between the community and local police is something critics have recently been questioning as well.

Spokesman Lt. Sidney Allen said LRPD is aware of the task.

"There are some people that just don't care for the police and there are others that love us to no end," Allen said. "We are just wanting to get everyone to at least respect us. If you don't love us, at least respect us, respect the presence. Because not only do we help you, we need you to help us."

Lt. Allen said the relationship between the community and the police is also impacted by the increased use of social media.

"Heard it on television, saw it on Facebook, saw it on Twitter, and they accept it to be the truth. And we just want you to say if you have an unpleasant experience with the police department, there are ways for you to document that complaint and send it up."

Below are the levels of force that officers can use to overcome resistance, control people who are in custody, and prevent escape:

1. Level 1 - Officer Presence - The identification of police officer's authority, either by the uniformed police or the verbal indication of being a police officer.

2. Level 2 - Verbal Direction - Verbal commands of direction or arrest.

3. Level 3 - Empty Hand Control

a) Soft Empty Hand Control - Techniques that are designed to control Passive or Defensive Resistance, used when verbal direction/commands are not effective and there is non-compliance with lawful orders. They include strength techniques, joint locks, pressure points, or a Knee-Strike/Distraction Technique to the subject's thigh (to prevent resistance from the escort position). These techniques have little or no potential for injury.

b) Hard Empty Hand Control - Techniques that are designed to control Active Aggression, but can be used to control Defensive Resistance when lower forms of control have failed or when the officer believes lower forms of control will fail. These techniques include Defensive Counter strikes and the Shoulder Pin Restraint. These techniques have a probability of injury in the form of bruises, contusions, or lacerations. G. O. 303 USE OF FORCE LITTLE ROCK POLICE DEPARTMENT


4. Level 4 - Intermediate Weapons - Intermediate Weapon level of control is the application/use of any weapon/object that is not part of the human body to control resistance or an assault. Examples include any form of chemical agent, impact weapons (flashlight, radio, broomsticks, etc.) and conducted electrical weapons (Taser). The use of an Intermediate Weapon is justified when lower forms of empty hand control have failed, or when an officer believes that his skill level in empty hand control will be insufficient, and the use of Deadly Force is not justified. They are used with the intent to temporarily disable the subject and never with the intent to cause permanent injury.

5. Level 5 - Deadly Force - Any force used by an officer that may result in great bodily harm or the loss of human life. Officers may only use Deadly Force to protect themselves or others from what they reasonably believe to be an immediate threat of death or serious physical injury.