Keys to a Successful Use of Force Report

It should be obvious to any law enforcement officer that if you are involved in a use of force situation the incident will be subject to additional scrutiny – by both the public and your department. Any questionable use of force is likely to become a matter for the Prosecutor’s Office, not simply your chain of command. So, what are officers to do?

First, keep doing your job as safe as possible. Second, make sure that all incidents involving any use of force are properly documented to articulate why you, as the officer on scene, felt the force was not only appropriate but necessary. Unfortunately, many fine officers face difficulties when it comes to writing a good report. Here are some tips I’ve picked up in both my own experiences and in reviewing reports submitted by other officers. Hopefully they can help you if the time comes to defend your own actions.

Injured1. A good report is essential, regardless of other possible evidence. Do not think a good report is only necessary if there is no video or any bystander statements to support your actions. Video might not show the entire incident. Witnesses are notoriously unreliable. Neither is able to explain what you as the officer where thinking, or saw, as the situation developed. Write the best report possible every time.

2. Tell everything from start to finish. You need to paint an accurate account of not only what happened but also why this resulted in force being necessary. Do not assume that the reader, regardless of who they may be, knows something about the suspect or the case. Be specific concerning what you say, heard or even thought. Paint a picture for the reader that causes them to not only understand why you reacted in the manner you did, but agree they would have done the same thing.

3. Charge the suspect appropriately. Regardless of the violation which lead to the confrontation, if you need to go hands on with a suspect you should include charges for assault on a law enforcement officer, aggregated assault etc. depending upon local statutes. This is especially true if either you or the suspect have been injured. Even a justified use of force can be difficult to defend if no charges were filed.

4. Seek a medical evaluation. If there is any chance you were injured by the suspect it is vital that you seek medical attention and have your injuries documented. This is not a time to simply shake it off and be a tough guy; lack of documentation can not only impact any worker’s compensation case, but also derail a claim that force was necessary.

5. Keep doing the job as safe as possible. It is easy to let recent events cause you to hesitate when faced with a possible use of force. Doing so is more likely to cause you to second guess your training and delay a necessary reaction than avoid potential problems. Remember your training, know the law and do what is necessary to come home safe each day.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Tom Burrell

Tom enlisted in the US Marine Corps Reserves in 1987. Following service in Desert Storm, he transitioned to active duty with the US Coast Guard. In 1997 he left the USCG to pursue a position in conservation & maritime law enforcement. Tom is currently a Captain and he oversees several programs, including his agency investigation unit. He is also a training instructor in several areas including firearms, defensive tactics and first aid/CPR. In 2006 Tom received his Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice from Harrisburg Area Community College and in 2010 a Bachelor’s Degree from Penn State University.
Tom Burrell
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