In response to calls for police reform during last summer’s social injustice protests, and after the indictments of two offices on felony battery charges for the arrest of a protester, IMPD has put into effect the “Proportionality Requirement of Use of Force” into its General Orders.
The new requirement, effective this week, augments the traditional “Objective Reasonableness” standard that IMPD has operated under as courts have typically considered an officer’s response in comparison to how a reasonable person would react to the evidence at hand regarding the incident in question.
“’Objective Reasonableness’ is the standard bearer,” said IMPD Deputy Chief Kendale Adams. “We want our officers to use the minimum amount of force necessary, but, again, these are very dynamic incidents that have to be evaluated on their own merit.”
Adams said “Proportionality” could be construed as the progressive consideration of the range of options, weapons and tactics in responding to an incident as opposed to utilizing the maximum use of lethal force even though such a response may be legal and defensible.
“A minimum amount of force that is required that is now paired with objective reasonableness, in essence, that makes it safer for the citizen as well as the police officer,” said Adams. “I think it makes it a little bit easier for officers, it’s a better standard, its training centered.”
Adams said recent IMPD recruits have been training to the “Proportionality” standard for the last year while veteran officers began classroom training in late 2020 with scenario-based drills this spring and will continue to train to the new requirement on a bi-annual basis.
Retired IPD Detective Stephen DeBoard was not only involved in officer-involved-shootings during his 21 years on the force, he also investigated such cases.
“’Proportionality’ is not a legal term, so you leave a lot of room for interpretation,” said DeBoard. “A ‘Reasonable Person’ is based on court law, court cases. ‘Proportionality’, when it comes to police action on the scene, is not based on law. It’s based on more of a community standard than it is on law and that’s scary.”
DeBoard said a smaller-framed police officer may need to respond with more force than a larger officer while fighting for control of a resisting subject.
“When you get to a smaller officer, less physically strong officer, their use of force and what seems reasonable to them and proportional based on the size is going to be different. That’s not stated in there,” he said after reading the new ”Proportionality Requirement.” “In the moment of the action, in the moment of the fray, what is going to happen to the officer when they say, ‘This is what I needed to do?’ and can articulate the action they did, but, yet, had to use more force and perhaps had to injure or kill the suspect involved?”
DeBoard said he finds the new requirement to be somewhat ambiguous and too dependent on the findings of the City’s new civilian-majority Use of Force Review Board to examine officer responses made in the heat of the battle or when faced by split-second fatal decisions.
“They’re going to be judged by the community, by the police department, and now, more so than ever, the courts. So where do they stand? When you have a confusing terminology being used by the police departments so they can make a broader meaning for it and give them more wiggle room, then you’re looking at a chaotic police department.
“I think it’s a confusing policy.”
Adams said most officers have adapted well to the new standard.
“For the vast majority of officers that I’ve spoken to, they already train to that. They are already aware that the minimal amount of force is the objective here.
“We’ll have a Use of Force Board that will tackle this issue as they look at adherence to our policy. We had already shifted our training around to distance and cover, concealment, all of those things to try to avoid uses of force as well as proportionality.”
Citing pending investigations, Adams would not comment on whether “Proportionality” would have limited the response of the two officers charged in the arrest of the protester last May or of the officers who fired more than a dozen shots to kill a suicidal man who pointed a gun at them last month.