Opinion: Law enforcement needs a shift from reasonable force to necessary force
Use of deadly force by law enforcement has been a huge debate recently and there doesn’t seem to be any signs of change to fix this issue. Calling for body cameras may help, but even with evidence of the use of deadly force against unarmed civilians, it doesn’t provide justice or accountability. That was, until the recent news of California’s new bill requiring the standard of use of deadly force by law enforcement from a reasonable force to a necessary force ― a much-needed change that I fully support.
The reasonable force standard is traced back to Tennessee v. Garner 471 U.S. 1 (1985), where the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that if a law enforcement officer “has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others” then the officer may use deadly force. The necessary force standard would require law enforcement officers to only use deadly force if “there were no other reasonable alternatives to the use of deadly force,” said Lizzie Buchen, a legislative advocate for the American Civil Liberties Union, which supports this change of standard.
Changing to the necessary force standard would be similar to the use of deadly force policies in European countries. Such countries follow an “absolute doctrine” found in Article 2 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which states, “The use of force which is no more than absolutely necessary.”
Implementing this change will help hold law enforcement accountable when the officer used deadly force in questionable situations, such as an unarmed civilian. This change will also require that law enforcement receives more training, which I argue they desperately need. Law enforcement needs more training on conflict resolution, non-lethal takedowns, and handling situations dealing with someone with mental illness. Requiring a change in the policy on when law enforcement can use deadly force will result in requiring better and more training for law enforcement.
With a new policy and better training, there will be less controversial police shootings and if there is an unfortunate incident where there is one, it will be easier for the courts to hold the officer accountable for his or her action. This will help repair the damage of trust civilians may have against law enforcement and the justice system and can also lead to fewer riots and protests.
There may be concerns that changing the policy will create more risks for law enforcement because the officer may have doubts about using deadly force when it is necessary. However, with the proper training and use of non-lethal techniques, officers will be able to continue doing their job safely if the use of deadly force policy changes. With a change in policy, citizens will feel safer, law enforcement will feel safer, and the community will feel safer. It is about time that every state changes to a standard of necessary force.