Use of Force 

At one time in the US legal system, it didn't matter what kind of force an officer used on a suspect or prisoner.  Today, though, times have changed as the courts realize that the use of force that an officer uses cannot (in most cases) exceed that which a suspect or prisoner used against the officer.  As a result a Continuum of Force policy has been invoked throughout the US by law enforcement agencies.

In the martial arts arena, the discussion and teaching of the Use of Force Continuum pretty much follows the same guidelines as they do for law enforcement.  There is however a difference between what guidelines an officer has to follow as compared to a civilian.  Keep in mind, that martial artists, for the most part, are civilians.  Does this difference throw out the continuum process for civilians or martial artists?  Certainly not, each state has its own laws also governing use of force by civilians.  

Although the laws governing civilian use of force may not be as clearly stated as they are for law enforcement, they apply and need to be understood.  There are two major differences between law enforcement use of force and that of civilians.  These are:

  • Law enforcement officers are held to a higher code of conduct and scrutiny then civilians because of their training and position in the community.

  • Because of various law suits brought against law enforcement agencies, additional clarification of law, policies, and procedures for law enforcement personnel have taken place.  In most cases these changes have been directed specifically toward law enforcement and not the civilian population.

To complicate matters further, from state-to-state, city-to-city, the levels and type of force in a continuum may also be different.  For example there are five levels of force used by the San Diego Police, while the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police utilize seven levels.  In the literature there is also discussion of up to eleven levels.

For the martial artist and for civilians, the level differs.  The courts have a harder time determining if a defendant exceeded a force level or not.  For example, a police officer may have to use OC spray on an attacker, but if a civilian doesn't have any spray available then they may have to go to a higher level of force in order to protect themselves.  Additionally, other factors such as the differences in weight, height, age, sex, physical conditioning, etc. may play a part in how the courts interpret whether the level of force exceeded what was needed or not.  Since things may not be cut and dry, each conflict has to be evaluated on its own merit.

The following tables present various law enforcement use of force levels.  

Law Enforcement Use of Force Levels

Charlotte-Mecklenburg    Colorado Springs    Dallas
Officer Presence   Officer Presence   Officer Presence
Verbal Direction   Verbal Control   Verbal Control
Soft Empty Hand   Soft Control Tech. Empty Hand Cont'l
Oleoresin Capsicum Cont'l & Compliance Int. Weapons
Hard Empty Hand   Hard Control Tech. Lethal Force
Intermediate Weapons Impact Weapons  
Lethal Force  Lethal Force  
St. Petersburg  San Diego Police    San Diego 
Officer Presence Officer Presence   Officer Presence
Verbal Direction Verbal Commands   Verbal Direction
Restraint Devices Control/Compliance   Soft Hand Cont'l
Transporter Soft Impact   Chem. Agents
Takedown Lethal Force   Hard Hand Contl
Pain Compliance   Int. Weapons
Countermoves   Lethal Force
Intermediate Weapons    
Lethal Force      

Officer/Suspect Relationship

The following chart indicates the use of force relationship between officers and suspects in one police department.


0. No Force
1. Police Presence
2. Verbal Commands
3. Control & Restraint (handcuffs)
4. Chemical Agents
5. Tactics and Weapons*
6. Firearms/Deadly Force


0. No Resistance
1. Psychological Intimidation
2. Verbal Noncompliance
3. Passive Resistance
4. Defensive Resistance
5. Active Aggression
6. Firearms/Deadly Force

A continuum for martial artists

Following is a proposed use of force continuum for martial artists and civilians

0.  Walk away
1.  Verbal dialog
2. Soft Empty-hand techniques
           Firm grip 
           Pain compliance
           Grappling holds/Throws 
3.  Hard Empty-hand techniques 
           Hard throws
           Strikes (kicks, fists, etc.) 
4.  Chemical agents (if available)
5.  Non-lethal weapons 
6.  Deadly force
           Other tools resulting in a high probability of death 

What gets uniformed officers killed

Excessive reliance on firearms
Lack of practice in defensive tactics
Not knowing what to do - reverting to childhood behavior

Return  -  Main Menu