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Use of Force Policies for Campus Law Enforcement

Christine McHugh, Esq., ARM
October 2023
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Outlining the bounds of appropriate use of force will provide direction, consistency, and transparency for a fraught aspect of campus law enforcement.

Use-of-force policies are a critical component of police response and a focus for many college and university police departments. Specifying your institution’s position on appropriate use of force serves many important purposes, including helping to assure department consistency, maintain accountability, and provide transparency for the broader community.

When drafting or reviewing your institution’s use-of-force policy, ideally involve legal counsel and a campus security expert. With guidance from these experts, consider including the following provisions that are featured in many college police department policies:

  • Definitions. It is important that everyone operates with the same understanding. To alleviate confusion, define key terms your institution’s policy uses. Departments and people may use different terms with varying definitions and interpretations. Terms such as “noncompliant,” “extreme agitation,” and others can critically impact officers’ decisions. In addition, deadly force provisions usually allow for escalation when there is an “imminent” threat of severe bodily harm, so the policy should be explicit about your institution’s position and its definition of “imminent.”
  • Verbal de-escalation techniques. Many departments include requirements for verbal de-escalation in this policy, as these steps can sometimes prevent or reduce the need for using force.
  • Factors used to determine reasonableness of force. Officers consider many things when determining whether to use force. Outlining factors used in such assessments helps explain when use of force is acceptable and what level is appropriate. Some departments include explicit rules about what level of force each officer position may use.
  • Escalation of force. Be specific about measures you expect officers to take before escalating to use of force. Some institutions focus their policy on using less-than-lethal force and include details about these options. Train officers on how to quickly assess and adjust use of force in accordance your requirements.
  • Specific details of allowable or prohibited techniques. Many departments include specifics about control techniques, such as vascular neck restrictions, chokeholds, or carotid restraint. If your police department allows these techniques, specify under what conditions the techniques may be used, and provide protocols for medical treatment of the subject and proper reporting within the department. Review state and local laws for statutory prohibitions that may apply to your institution.
  • Reporting requirements. Police departments have varying requirements about how levels of force are reported for documentation, tracking, and investigation. Explain your department’s requirements and the responsibilities of each member in the chain of command.
  • Applicable laws. Where state or local statutes govern the use of force, include those details in your policy.
  • Use of Force Review Board. If you don’t already have one, consider whether you should. These boards conduct administrative review and investigation of situations involving use of force that results in serious injury or death. The boards also regularly review compliance with the law and with department training and policy. Some limit the review to situations involving deadly force.

In conjunction with a use-of-force policy, your department may want to address the following issues, either within this policy or separately:

Because of public scrutiny surrounding use of force, some institutions also provide details about their use-of-force framework or philosophy to the community. Others offer answers online to the most frequent questions on this topic or provide information about the training officers receive on the use of force.


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