COLUMBIA, S.C. (WSPA)—The Asheville Police Department’s new use-of-force policy is being called a model for the rest of the nation by an expert at the University of South Carolina. USC law professor Seth Stoughton is also a former police officer. He says there are several parts of the policy that make it different.
“First, the policy starts by reminding officers that their primary obligation is to protect and preserve life. From there, it advises officers that when it is safe and feasible to do so they are to try to de-escalate before using force. It identifies that when officers do use force they have an obligation to do so only using that force which is necessary. There’s part of the policy that tells officers that, if they view another officer using excessive force, they’re under an obligation to intervene and to report to a supervisor,” he says.
You would think that all police departments would encourage officers to de-escalate situations when necessary, but they don’t. Stoughton says, “In a recent study that a co-author and I did of the 50 largest police agencies and their use-of-force policies, less than half called for de-escalation and just over half had other policy statements that are included in this Asheville policy, like the obligation to intervene and good reporting requirements and the rest.”
Asheville PD Lt. Mike Lamb says the department came up with the policy after meeting with members of the community and experts on police use of force. “Before we could make it a finalized policy, we had to train all the officers on how to use de-escalation techniques, both in the classroom and also in scenarios,” he says.
Stoughton says it’s good that they’ve done the training. “Policy by itself is never going to be enough. It needs to be combined with good training, with effective supervision, and with a peer environment where officers expect each other to live up to the principles outlined in the policy document.”
He says the policy should make the public safer, but also better protect officers.
“Reminding officers to use appropriate tactics and to engage in de-escalation when it is safe to do so, and from a position of relative safety, makes sure that officers aren’t getting involved in unnecessary physical confrontations,” he says. “The community will respond better to police agencies that have this type of use-of-force policy, and when you have improved trust between the community and police officers you see less resistance and more cooperation and compliance with officer requests or orders.”