In 1998, the U.S. Supreme Court made this statement when ruling in Graham v. Connor (490 U.S. 386):
"The reasonableness of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight. The calculus of reasonableness must embody allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments - in circumstances that are tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving - about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation. The test of reasonableness is not capable of precise definition or mechanical application" (McBride).
This is the current legal standard by which police use of force is evaluated in federal courts. It suggests that one must assess the case based upon what was known/believed by a reasonable police officer at the time. Whatever may be determined later does not change the perceived danger at the moment. According to Howard Rantz, author of Understanding Police Use of Force (Criminal Justice Press, 2003), court rulings have "affirmed the principle that deadly-force incidents must be judged from the precise moment the 'seizure,' i.e. deadly force, occurs" (Davis).
The must ask if a reasonable officer with similar training and experience would have acted the same in similar circumstances (Roufa).
In Graham v. Connor, the Supreme Court gave us three factors to consider when evaluating use of force:
- The severity of the crime at issue,
- The threat of the suspect, and
- The level of resistance offered by the suspect (Flosi).
The objectively reasonable standard has begun to replace use-of-force continuum in departmental policies. This includes influential agencies like the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center and the Los Angeles Police Department.
This is the general use of force policy of the LAPD:
"Use of Force - General. It is the policy of this Department that personnel may use only that force which is 'objectively reasonable' to : Defend themselves; defend others; effect an arrest or detention; prevent escape; or overcome resistance" (McBride).
We cannot fairly evaluate police actions based on what we learn about an incident after the fact. So it is not pivotal if we later find out that an offender's gun was unloaded. It only matters that the officer involved can articulate the perceived threat to her life or the lives of others at the moment and that her actions be deemed "objectively reasonable." It would be truly unreasonable of us to judge police based on facts they could not have known at the time.
- Davis, Kevin, "Officer Survival in 20/20 Hindsight," Officer.com, 1-3-2013.
- Flosi, Ed, "Use of Force: Defining 'Objectively-Reasonable' Force," Policeone.com, 2-8-2012.
- McBride, Kevin, "Objectively Reasonable Standard for Training Officers in Use-of-Force," Lawfuluse.com, 10-31, 2012.
- Roufa, Timothy, "Uses of Force in Law Enforcement and Corrections," About.com, (accessed 1-8-2013).