Law enforcement officers in this country, including here in New York, may use force when necessary to protect themselves and others. They can do this without fear of reprisal. Otherwise, they would not be able to adequately perform their duties.
However, the force used cannot be more than necessary to control the situation, and protect themselves and everyone else. Police officers must use as little force as possible to do their jobs, but sometimes, officers will go beyond that and use excessive force, which would be a violation of your rights under the Fourth and Eighth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
It's a graduating scale
When it comes to using force, most police officers never want to have to draw their weapons, let alone use them. However, they have the ability to do so as long as it is the appropriate response to an imminent threat. During a traffic stop, investigation or some other contact with the public, officers must use a graduated method when it comes to force similar to the one below:
- They can use their presence to deter violence and prevent an altercation.
- If that doesn't work, they may verbalize non-threatening requests, but if that is not enough, they can give direct orders.
- If the situation continues to escalate, they can attempt to use "empty-hand" methods, which involve punches, kicks, holds and grabs.
- If the above methods have no effect, officers can step up their efforts using non-lethal weapons such as Tasers, police dogs, chemical sprays and batons.
- Only after realizing that no other option is available may officers use lethal force, i.e., using their firearms.
In a perfect world, officers would take the time to go through each of these steps, but that isn't always possible. In some cases, they must go directly to the use of physical or lethal force. However, they cannot go directly to physical force or lethal force if the situation does not warrant it. For instance, if you agree to go peacefully with the officer, he or she would not have the right to physically assault you with empty-hand methods, non-lethal or lethal force.
If you believe that one or more police officers exceeded their mandate regarding the use of force, you have no time to lose. Even if you are still dealing with your criminal proceedings, you must address the issue of excessive force as soon as possible since the law only gives you so much time to do so.