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The Use of Force Continuum for Civilians By Derek Smith

As an agent or law enforcement officer, and even as a military combatant, it is not always feasible to just pull a weapon and shoot someone, nor is it morally correct. To ensure some lone ranger does not just go around using their gun for any reason they deem fit, most law enforcement agencies have policies that guide it’s use of force.

These policies direct us agents to use an escalating series of actions to resolve a situation. This continuum generally has several levels, and agents are taught and directed to respond with a level of force appropriate to the situation he or she is faced with, acknowledging that he or she may move from one part of the continuum to another in a split second.

In the military, their use of force continuum is called the escalation of force (EOF) but they are very similar. The purpose of these models is to clarify, both for law enforcement officers and civilians, the complex subject of use of force. There are different models used and there is no universal model, but they are similar.

Now I am not a lawyer and cannot give you legal advice, but I will argue that if you have to defend yourself, especially using lethal force, things may go much better for you if you can say that you followed a use of force continuum similar to what the police use to make their force decisions.

I am going to provide some guidance on how the continuum works at different levels and how you can use it for your self-defense.

An example of a use-of-force continuum is as follows:
  • Officer Presence — No force is used. Considered the best way to resolve a situation.
    • The mere presence of a law enforcement officer works to deter crime or diffuse a situation.
    • Officers’ attitudes are professional and nonthreatening.

The officer has his uniform, badge and gun to show that he is in charge and not to be messed with.

For you as a civilian, let’s say you are confronted in a parking lot over a space. You have a belligerent guy cursing and shouting at you for whatever reason. You have the option to simply back away from the situation or just maintain a confident, but nonthreatening attitude and presence that lets the guy know, through your body posture, that you are ready for action if you need to be and are not intimidated by his actions.

  • Verbalization — Force is not-physical.
    • Officers issue calm, nonthreatening commands, such as “Let me see your license and registration.”
    • Officers may increase their volume and shorten commands in an attempt to gain compliance. Short commands might include “Stop,” or “Don’t move.”

This works well for you too. Continuing with the parking lot scenario, the guy is walking up to you and threatening you with his words, telling you how he is going to “kick your ass,” if you don’t move your car. At first you may try to calmly talk the guy down asking him to please not continue threatening you.

If, however, he keeps approaching you and continues to threaten you as he approaches you should increase your volume and tell him to “STOP!”, “GET BACK!” and to “LEAVE YOU ALONE.” It would be helpful if this caught other people’s attention so they can be witnesses to what may happen next.

  • Empty-Hand Control — Officers use two types of bodily force to gain control of a situation.
    • Soft technique. Officers use grabs, holds and joint locks to restrain an individual.
    • Hard technique. Officers use punches and kicks to restrain an individual.

Now the guy in the parking lot reaches out to try to grab or punch you. At this point you have every right to defend yourself because in most states this would now be considered a physical assault (BTW when the guy was shouting at you, that could be considered a verbal assault and is also illegal in many jurisdictions.) If you decide to use a soft technique you might use a joint lock to control the attacker and hopefully diffuse the situation.

If the joint lock does not work, you may have to escalate your defensive (yes I said defensive as you are protecting yourself and it makes a difference in court) response and begin to unleash a barrage of kicks or punches to “stop the threat” (again an important term used by law enforcement.)

  • Less-Lethal Methods — Officers use less-lethal technologies to gain control of a situation.
    • Blunt impact. Officers may use a baton or projectile to immobilize a combative person.
    • Chemical. Officers may use chemical sprays or projectiles embedded with chemicals to restrain an individual (e.g., pepper spray).
    • Conducted Energy Devices (CEDs). Officers may use CEDs to immobilize an individual. CEDs discharge a high-voltage, low-amperage jolt of electricity at a distance.

These are three of the methods I was taught for escalating the amount of force I needed to use if the attacker kept coming. So in our parking lot scenario, let’s say that your opponent is a lot stronger than you or has martial arts training and your techniques are not effective against him. At this point you may feel afraid and even more threatened and feel you need to escalate your defense.

You may retrieve your kubaton from your pocket or purse and use it as your blunt impact weapon. Some people carry mace or pepper spray and you may want to deploy it now (be careful, I have seen many agents and police officers mistakenly spray themselves with their own pepper spray, especially if the wind is blowing. Even when they get the bad guy, they often get some in their own eyes or inadvertently spray their partner.) Some of you may even carry legal tasers and can use it at this point.

  • Lethal Force — Officers use lethal weapons to gain control of a situation. Should only be used if a suspect poses a serious threat to the officer or another individual.
    • Officers use deadly weapons such as firearms to stop an individual’s actions.

Finally, the situation has gotten very serious and you feel that the attacker is trying to take your life.

Just as for agents, you should only use lethal force when your attacker poses a serious threat to you. At this point the guy in the parking lot has you by the throat and is attempting to kill you or has pulled a knife or gun (or any type of weapon.)

At this time, you may have to pull your legally carried knife or gun and use it. Hopefully you are much better with your weapon of choice because you have taken advantage of the excellent training we provide you here at Fightfast.com.

It is important for you to understand that this is just one scenario of how the use of force continuum can be used. This entire scenario could go down in seconds and you have to use the information I have provided here and your own judgement to make the correct decision.

Hopefully what I have shared today will increase your understanding of the continuum and help you make the right decision.

Click here for more self defense instruction from Derek Smith

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102 thoughts on “The Use of Force Continuum for Civilians By Derek Smith”

  1. you guys have great tips for self defense. Except when, say the attacker is a John Wayne type who wants to shoot first and talk later, as seen on the news programs.

  2. As for the parking lot situation, maybe choosing the first option to “back away from the situation” is the better choice. Even if you win the physical parking lot battle, you may still loose the courtroom battle which is sure to come.