Police officers in Colorado must be careful not to exert too much force on someone while they're enforcing the law. They must evaluate the situation and the threat presented by the individual they're dealing with, and then use an appropriate amount of force -- if any force at all. This force can be evaluated via the "police use of force spectrum."
Police officers don't always follow the rules when it comes to the level of force they should exert. When this over-exertion results in serious injuries, the injured person may have a viable claim to pursue personal injury damages in court. During the litigation of such cases the "police use of force spectrum" could become an important benchmark for judging how appropriately the police performed given the circumstances surrounding the incident.
Degrees of force listed under the use of force spectrum
According to the United States Supreme Court, "the right to make an arrest or investigatory stop necessarily carries with it the right to use some degree of physical coercion or threat." That said, officers must administer an appropriate amount of force or coercion given the threat, and only increase the amount of force proportionally in response to that threat.
The use of force spectrum is a guideline that officers can use when it comes to the escalation of force in different contexts:
1. Physical presence: The lowest level of force simply involves an officer being physically present. This could be enough to calm or control certain situations.
2. Verbalization: The next level of force could involve an officer using verbal statements to make nonthreatening requests and issue orders to people in a given environment.
3. Empty-hand control: If those in a given situation don't respond to physical presence or verbalization, the officer may need to use various holds, grabs, punches and kicks.
4. Less lethal methods: The next level of force involves an officer using chemical sprays, batons, tasers and even police canines to control a situation. Of course, these means of control could become lethal when applied in various ways.
5. Lethal force: Lethal force involves the use of a deadly weapon like a firearm.
In the case of 3, 4 and 5 above, an officer must stop using such force as soon as it's no longer required. If a suspect submits and allows himself to be restrained, for example, the officer should immediately withdraw the force being used. An officer who continues to apply force simply because he or she wishes to punish someone will be acting unlawfully.
Were you injured by excessive police force?
Colorado courts do not view excessive police force favorably. If you suffered injuries because of an officer's excessive use of force, learn about your legal options to determine how you might be able to protect your rights in court.