A user’s guide to our police use-of-force policies

Policies provide entry into department culture, as well as training and reporting requirements

Written by Beryl Lipton
Edited by JPat Brown

Law enforcement’s application of force - from minor restraints to pepper spray to lethal firearms - is guided by its use-of-force policy. Solidifying a department’s stance on when it’s appropriate to use force and what reporting steps need to be taken if it is, the use-of-force policy can be one of the clearest ways to understand how an agency applies its power.

MuckRock has a growing collection of use-of-force policies from police and corrections departments throughout the country. Law enforcement agencies of all kinds, from local police departments to U.S. Fish and Wildlife, have them. Each provides insight what training is required before force can be applied …

under what circumstances the agency believes deadly force is justifiable…

and what documentation must be created once it’s applied.

Because use-of-force policies are standard departmental materials, requesting them via public records request should be a straightforward ask. Sam Sinyangwe and the people at Campaign Zero have submitted requests as part of a national look at the different ways departments handle frame their use of force policies. Using the provided materials to compare the policies of the 100 biggest police departments, they analyzed the elements that they believe lead to a stronger departmental policy and culture around physical force.

Just because it’s a standard document, though,doesn’t mean that every agency will willingly give up its policies. When Shawn Musgrave first asked for Cambridge’s policies in 2015, they rejected his request under the excuse that such policies were exempt under law enforcement techniques.

However, such rejections are typically totally inappropriate, and Cambridge soon reversed course, placing all of the materials online.

A list of all of our current use-of-force policies can be found on the project page, and NYPD’s policy is embedded below. Interested in getting your own local law enforcement’s guide? Clone a request or let us know at info@muckrock.com.


Image by via Wikimedia Commons and is licensed under CC BY 2.0