Use of Force


Arrests –  Public Safety/Protection of Property

Self-Defense – Protection of Self/Others

The use of force doctrine is employed by police officers, as well as security officers on duty, to regulate their actions in the use of force.

  • The aim of such a doctrine is to balance security needs with ethical concerns for the rights and well-being of intruders or suspects.
  • The use of force, in the context of law enforcement, security officers and military personnel on guard duty, may be defined as the “amount of effort required by police to compel compliance by an unwilling subject”.
  • In the event that members of the public are injured, this may give rise to issues of self-defense as a justification.
  • In the event of death, this may be a justifiable homicide.


  • The use of force may be standardized by a use of force continuum, which presents guidelines as to the degree of force appropriate in a given situation.
  • A use of force continuum is a standard that provides law enforcement officers and civilians with guidelines as to how much force may be used against a resisting subject in a given situation.
  • In some ways, it is similar to the U.S. military‘s escalation of force (EOF).
  • The purpose of these models is to clarify, both for law enforcement officers and civilians, the complex subject of use of force.
  • They are often central parts of law enforcement agencies’ use of force policies.
  • Various criminal justice agencies have developed different models of the continuum, and there is no universal or standard model.
  • Generally, each different agency will have their own use of force policy. Some agencies may separate some of the hand-to-hand based use of force.
  • For example, take-downs and pressure point techniques may be one step before actual strikes and kicks.
  • Also, for some agencies the use of aerosol pepper spray and electronic control devices (TASER) may fall into the same category as take-downs, or the actual strikes.
  • There are many Use of Force Continuum’s.

  • Continuum’s must consider the subjects resistance levels, security officer/subject factors, and special circumstances, as well as the security officer’s reasonable level of force for that situation.
  • Each successive level of force is meant to describe an escalating series of actions a security officer may take to resolve a situation, and the level of force used rises only when a lower level of force would be ineffective in dealing with the situation.
  • Typically any style of a use of force continuum will start with Security Officer Presence, and end with the use of Deadly Force.


  1. Security Officer Presence (using the effect of the presence of an authority figure on a subject)
  2. Verbal Communication (commanding a subject)
  3. Empty hand control (using empty hands to search, relieve weapons, immobilize, or otherwise control a subject)
  4. Intermediate weapons (using non-lethal chemical, electronic or impact weapons on a subject)
  5. Deadly Force (using any force likely to cause permanent injury or death to a subject)

Use of force continuum’s can be further broken down.


  1. Psychological Intimidation – Nonverbal cues indicating a subject’s attitude, appearance, and physical readiness. (Ex: Karate stance, the finger, fist to palm, up your arm)
  2. Verbal Noncompliance – Verbal responses indicting unwillingness or threats. (Ex: “Go to hell,” “I’m not going,” “I’m going to kill you.”)
  3. Passive Resistance – Physical actions that do not prevent officer’s attempt to control. (Ex: Passive demonstrator sitting on the ground)
  4. Defensive Resistance – Physical actions that attempt to prevent officer’s control, but never attempt to harm the officer. (Ex: Pulls away from officer, walks away from officer)
  5.  Active Aggression – Physical actions of assault. (Ex: Subject punching or kicking officer)
  6. Deadly Force Assault – Deadly force encounter. (Ex: Suspect trying to stab officer with knife)