Why police use of force never looks pretty

So there you are, minding your own business when you see a squad car pull over a car.  It looks random but innocuous.

Suddenly the police are jumping out, guns pointed and another squad pulls up.  They all fan out around the car, one shouts about crossfire while 3 others go directly to a passenger door and immediately the occupant is pulled out.  You hear the occupant start screaming they didn't do anything and see them try to pull away.  There are 3 officers all struggling to keep his hands on the roof of the car and him from running.

Suddenly an officer yells something, and the 3 officers move in closer.  They tell him to relax, stop resisting, stop moving.  Suddenly the crowd starts shouting to leave him alone, that this is harassment and illegal.  But then one of the officers turns around holding a gun they just pulled from the occupants waistband and then other 2 put him in cuffs.  You realize the occupant was armed. 

You originally saw 3 officers pinning a person against the car, thinking they were brutalizing them, when in reality they saw something that dragged their attention to that person. Movements that are indicative of someone trying to shove a gun in their waistband.  Things the officers are trained for.  What you thought was the police brutalizing the suspect was actually them trying to control the very thing that could kill the officers.  The individual's hands.  Minimal force, but necessary when investigating a potentially armed subject.

Let's say you are driving by as an officer has someone step out of the car and put their hands on the hood.  You see the officer grab one hand and put a cuff on then suddenly the officer is leaning into the subject and laying on top of him over the hood.  Then they both go to the ground with the officer appearing to slap the subject as he had one armed cuffed and the other arm is under the subject.  The officer continues to appear to slap the subject until he is able to get the other hand in the cuff.

What you didn't see, or feel, is as the officer began to bring the one cuffed hand behind the subject he stiffened up and pushed off the car.  The officer felt that, which is why he leaned into him. 

What you didn't hear was the subject say he wasn't going back to jail and went for something in his waistband, which is why the officer took it to the ground.

What you didn't feel was while on the ground the subject was digging in his waistband.  The officer on top could feel it.  The diffused pressure strikes/open palm strikes (aka slaps) were used as a pain compliance technique to get the subject to stop rummaging in his waistband and give up his other hand to be fully cuffed.  Turns out he didn't have anything, but admitted later he would rather force the officer to shoot and kill him then go to jail again.

In either case the use of force looks messy.  To be honest police work is messy.  It's not black and white, it's very gray.  There is a gap between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law.  That gap is the gray police work in, because not every situation has a law specifically for it.  A cop has to be well versed in law to know what is applicable and what isn't.  Use of force is no different.

One cop may see something while another feels it and yet another hears something.  They are all right.  Their perspective will be what dictates the type and amount of force used.  An officer needs to we well versed in their department's use of force model as well as laws regarding force.

Again, to an outside looking in it looks ugly.  Harsh.  Just plain old bad.

And sometimes it is.  Sometimes it was an inappropriate use of force and we see those officers in the news, in court, and in jail.

But despite how it may look, the vast majority of force incidents are just confusing to look at from an outside perspective.  Even more so is the use of force is based on a reasonable officer in that moment in that set of circumstances.  There's no Monday morning quarterbacking or 20/20 hindsight into the incident.  Its in that moment with all the knowns and unknowns that the officer is judged on.  Because of that reasoning, it is why many officers are acquitted in trials of Civil Rights violations yet sometimes canned from their job. 

And that is a confusing thing for many.

How can they be fired but not in jail?  Because they probably broke department protocols or orders, but didn't break the law.

Police work, just like police use of force, is done in the messy, foggy, and confusing gray area that falls between the black letters on the white pages of law.


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