FOIA use of force policy and then ask these questions

Muckrock makes submitting a public information request to your local law enforcement agency (LEA) pretty easy. Existing requests serve as templates you can clone. To submit a request for use of force policies to your local LEA:

  1. Select a use of force policy request for a town in your state from this list:
  2. Click/tap the Clone button.
  3. Change the agency name in the title.
  4. Change the jurisdiction and agency in the selector.
  5. Click/tap the File button.

That will wrap the magical line “All current policies maintained by the department regarding use of force” with boilerplate appropriate for your jurisdiction. If your local LEA is not in Muckrock’s database, Muckrock will do the grunt work of finding the right agency contacts. You can speed this process by providing the agency’s email address, website, and phone numbers. Further, search your local government’s web site for an open records request contact. Here’s an example of an open records page on a local government website.

Once you obtain the use of force policy, read it with these questions from Use of Force Project in mind:

Affirms Value of Life:  Does the policy affirm that preservation of life is the primary, most important, and/or sole principle guiding police actions?

Requires De-Escalation: Does the policy require officers to de-escalate situations, when possible?

Bans Chokeholds and Strangleholds: Are chokeholds and strangleholds (including carotid restraints) explicitly prohibited, except in situations where deadly force is authorized?

Duty to Intervene: Are officers required to intervene when witnessing another officer using excessive force?

Warn Before Shooting: Are officers required to give a verbal warning before shooting someone, when possible?

Moving Vehicles: Are officers prohibited from shooting at people in moving vehicles unless the subject presents a separate deadly threat other than the vehicle itself?

Transparency: Is the full, unredacted use of force policy available online?

Reporting:  Are all uses of force required to be reported, including the pointing of a firearm at a civilian?

My local LEA, Hays County Sheriff’s Office, responded to my public information request with an 8 page policy. Its brevity does not answer these questions, though it somewhat affirms life.

It is the policy of the Hays County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) that employees will respond to resistance/threats prudently for their own protection, the protection of the life, health, or safety of others and property, in the execution of a lawful arrest or search, and/or as otherwise authorized by the law. Employees will employ objective reasonableness as a standard for appropriate levels of response.

Compare that to the Austin Police Department’s affirmation.

The protection of life is the primary core value and guiding principle of the Austin Police Department. As such, all employees will strive to preserve human life while recognizing that duty may require the use of deadly force, as a last resort, after other reasonable alternatives have failed or been determined impractical. The department’s basic goal is to protect life, property, and to preserve the peace in a manner consistent with the freedom secured by the United States Constitution. Employees of the Department are professionals. We must realize our main responsibility is the protection of the community and the preservation of human life and dignity.