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Magazines > Information Today > September 2016

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Information Today
Vol. 33 No. 7 — September 2016
Choose the Force: A Librarianís Guide to Use-of-Force Information
By Anthony Aycock

Police violence is a topic that has been in the news too much lately. Officers attacking citizens and citizens attacking police. Writers, pundits, and Facebook users have blamed everyone and everything, but they get one thing (mostly) right: Training can make a difference. Echoing the thoughts of some others, Connecticut state representative Joe Verrengia says, “Police training is at the heart of the national debate.” Verrengia, a 25-year veteran of the West Hartford Police Department, drafted and helped pass a state law that establishes a task force to study law enforcement training in Connecticut. Similar efforts are underway in other states. In North Carolina, for example, the legislature authorized the North Carolina Justice Academy, a statewide training agency, to buy state-of-the-art use-of-force simulators. The academy was also given a new instructor position to focus on use-of-force training.

What is “use of force”? The International Association of Chiefs of Police describes it as the “amount of effort required by police to compel compliance by an unwilling subject.” Think of this effort as a spectrum stretching from the simplest response, such as an officer merely being present, to deadly force, such as firing a gun. Well-trained officers know when and how to respond and how to vary that response as circumstances change. They know how to assess threats, communicate, and de-escalate. These are valuable techniques that anyone can use to manage conflicts in their daily lives.

With public scrutiny of police at an all-time high, librarians may be called upon to research training and use-of-force issues. Below are several websites that are excellent resources.

General Policing Sites

Law enforcement websites can be a mixture of academic, governmental, and commercial interests. Too often, these interests are in conflict. However, these three sites maintain a good balance.

• (— is a gateway site for all things police-related. It is more commercial than others—in the Products tab, you can buy guns, body cameras, Kevlar vests, tactical footwear, automated fingerprint identification systems, breathalyzers, and all sorts of stuff. But there is also a Topics tab that opens up an encyclopedia of police knowledge. The use-of-force topic, for instance, has articles, photos, and videos of a ripped-from-the-headlines nature. More newsy than how-to, the site is one of the biggest and most versatile in law enforcement.

• NIJ (National Institute of Justice;—NIJ is the R&D arm of the U.S. Department of Justice. Using a scientific approach, it “provides objective and independent knowledge and tools to reduce crime and promote justice, particularly at the state and local levels.” That state and local focus is why so many police agencies rely on NIJ. More than 7,000 full-text publications are available through the website, some written by NIJ, some not. Content is also organized by topic. A key section of the use-of-force topic is the use-of-force continuum, which lays out the five levels of police force: 1) Officer Presence:No force is used; 2) Verbalization:Force is not physical; 3) Empty-Hand Control:Officers use bodily force (but no weapons) to control a situation; 4) Less-Lethal Methods:Officers use less-lethal weapons (e.g., a Taser or pepper spray) to control a situation; and 5) Lethal Force:Officers use lethal weapons to gain control of a situation. Lethal force should only be used if a suspect poses a serious threat to the officer or another person.

• IADLEST (International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training;—Similar to NIJ, IADLEST is an R&D resource for law enforcement. Its goal is to “research, develop, and share information, ideas and innovations which assist states in establishing effective and defensible standards for employment and training of law enforcement officers. …” Through its POST (Peace Officer Standards and Training) Portal, IADLEST links to each state agency responsible for training and regulating that state’s officers. Other projects include model standards, a catalog of online courses (available only to law enforcement), and the National Decertification Index, a database of officers who have been stripped of their certifications by state agencies.


Words can hurt. We know this. But they can also help mend rifts. In fact, the trend in law enforcement training now is to emphasize the less-lethal methods, especially those that involve no weapons.

De-escalation is one of these methods. Earlier, I mentioned use-of-force instruction at the North Carolina Justice Academy. One of the objectives of that training is to “aid officers in building skills in verbal communication to help limit the amount of force needed to control situations.” Here are some websites that focus on communication, not from an academic perspective (i.e., linguistics), but with the intention of improving a person’s everyday interaction with others.

• Verbal Judo Institute (—In her book The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense, Suzette Haden Elgin introduces a number of techniques that anyone can use to de-escalate potential verbal confrontations. The idea behind most of the techniques is redirection: transforming the focus of an encounter from anger to problem-solving. (The book is nicely distilled in this HowStuffWorks article: people Some years later, George Thompson, a former police officer who had a Ph.D. in English and black belts in judo and taekwondo, extended those concepts to law enforcement by founding the Verbal Judo Institute. It has trained millions of officers to eschew paramilitary might in favor of the power of words.

• The Recovering Engineer (—This blog hasn’t been updated since January 2016, the dates of the posts aren’t listed, and there doesn’t seem to be a search engine. And yet this is one of the few blogs devoted to “tak[ing] a close look at your thoughts, feelings, responses, and reactions to find better and more effective ways to resolve conflicts. …” Be sure to check out the De-escalation Tips series, with entries such as “Listening as a Tool to De-Escalate Conflicts” and “Using Apology to De-Escalate a Conflict.”

• HelpGuide’s Nonverbal Communication page (—It is often said that communication is only 7% verbal. That specific statement may not be true (this article debunks it pretty adamantly:, but no one can deny that body language and voice tone convey information. This section of HelpGuide, a site devoted to “mental, emotional, & social health,” goes into detail about all the stuff we say without saying it. Other HelpGuide topics are linked, such as Effective Communication and Conflict Resolution Skills, and a number of other articles appear at the end for further reading. (Though irrelevant for use-of-force training, what this Psychology Today article says about flirting is a must-read:

Law and Policy

On Nov. 12, 1984, Dethorne Graham, a diabetic, felt the onset of an insulin reaction and needed some sugar. His friend, William Berry, drove him to a convenience store. Graham rushed inside, but not wanting to wait in the long line, he ran back out without buying anything. An officer parked across the street noticed this odd behavior and pulled over Berry’s car a short distance from the store. Berry told the cop that Graham was diabetic, but it didn’t help. More cops arrived. Things got physical, and Graham ended up with a broken foot, cuts on his wrists, a bruised forehead, and an injured shoulder.

The resulting lawsuit, Graham v. Connor, was brought before the U.S. Supreme Court and is now the leading case in “determin[ing] the legality of every use-of-force decision an officer makes,” according to an article in POLICE Magazine called “Understanding Graham v. Connor.” There are other important cases as well. The following websites focus on the laws of law enforcement, as well as the policies that agencies write to keep their officers on the right side of those laws.

• (— is one of the oldest and largest law-related sites on the internet, covering all 50 states and 195 countries. The Police Law page deals with laws “that answer the question of ‘who polices the police?’” The page links to overviews, organizations, and publications related to police law. One of these is the National Police Accountability Project, a nonprofit attorney group that seeks to end “police abuse of authority.”

• Case Law 4 Cops (—So what about those other cases beyond Graham v. Connor? You can read about them here. This site seems to be updated regularly, as the homepage links to cases from mid-2016. The cases aren’t just summaries—they are full-text opinions (there are 27 cases under the Use of Force heading). Of less interest are the articles on this site, as they mostly make excuses. Here, for example, is the beginning of “Police Who Overreact”: “I would like to start off by acknowledging a shocking revelation. Police officers are human beings.”

• Police Use of Force Project (—This site is as unforgiving of police as Case Law 4 Cops is apologetic. The first thing on the homepage is a list of eight ways that use-of-force policies “lack basic protections against police violence.” Despite this tone, the site is a helpful database of use-of-force policies for a number of large city police departments, all obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests. Law enforcement agencies and training academies have access to policy databases, but for the average citizen, they can be hard to come by. This site fills that gap (if you can overlook the anti-cop rhetoric).

Community Policing

We know, or think we know, the traditional model of policing: Bad guys do bad things to victims, who report these bad things to the cops. The cops show up, talk to people, and write things down. Sometimes they find the bad guys, kick down their doors, and haul them off to jail. It’s similar to NCIS, except more cops are like Gibbs than DiNozzo.

There are a couple of problems with this model. First, it is reactive. Cops get involved only when something has gone awry. Second, it pits police against the community, since everyone officers interact with is either a victim (who wants to get on with his or her life), a witness (who may want to hide his or her involvement), or a suspect (who is keen to avoid arrest).

Community policing is a different model. Begun in the 1980s, it looks to create partnerships between protectors and those they protect. The emphasis is on preventing crime rather than reacting to it. In an era of increasing hostility between cops and citizens, community policing may be just what we need.

• Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office;—The COPS Office is a branch of the U.S. Department of Justice. It is “responsible for advancing the practice of community policing by the nation’s state, local, territorial, and tribal law enforcement agencies,” according to its website, which offers news, grant opportunities, and full-text publications. The COPS Office also sponsors a number of free training classes, all of which are listed on the site, although they are mostly classroom classes, not online, and they tend to be for law enforcement members rather than citizens. The site also offers podcasts on a number of topics, including use of force, domestic violence, crisis management, gangs, and more.

• Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS;—BJS is another arm of the U.S. Department of Justice. Its mission is to “collect, analyze, publish, and disseminate information on crime, criminal offenders, victims of crime, and the operation of justice systems. …” Its Community Policing page links to about as many publications as the COPS Office provides. You can also view the raw data behind BJS studies such as the “Police-Public Contact Survey,” which tracks people nationwide who had any type of contact with law enforcement. Researchers use the data to examine the perceptions of police behavior and response.

• Center for Problem-Oriented Policing (—Problem-oriented policing is a term often used in conjunction with community policing. It refers to law enforcement approaches “that are preventive in nature, that are not dependent on the use of the criminal justice system, and that engage other public agencies, the community and the private sector,” according to Herman Goldstein, one of the founders of the model. The centerpiece of this site is the 100-plus research guides to types of crime, police responses, investigative tools, and more. Each guide is similar to a HowStuffWorks article and is detailed and well-documented. The site also links to online courses, most of which require you to become a University of Albany student, although one or two are free massive open online courses (MOOCs).

Since Boston created a night watch in 1636, there has been a divide between peacekeepers and the rest of society. The divide widens each time one of those peacekeepers shoots or is shot. Both have happened for centuries, of course, but they seem to be occurring more frequently, which means public interest is higher than ever. Who polices the police? The answer is, for better or worse, they do, through training. These sites offer patrons insight into that training and the law enforcement culture that supports—and is supported by—it.

Anthony Aycock is the author of The Accidental Law Librarian (Information Today, Inc., 2013). A former law librarian, he now works at a law enforcement training academy. He has a B.A. in English, an M.F.A. in creative writing, an M.L.I.S., and an M.A. in criminal justice. Send your comments about this article to