A National Consensus Policy on Use of Force, signed by 11 police leadership groups on January 17, 2017 took two steps backwards and two steps forward. The two steps backwards involve the policies on warning shots and shots at moving vehicles.

The warning shot policy does include some limitations (“use of deadly force is justified;” “will not pose a substantial risk of injury or death”), but there is a notable lack of detail that would clarify exactly when warning shots can be fired. Warning shots were first prohibited by the New York City Police Department in 1972. Virtually all departments today prohibit them today, on the grounds that they pose a serious risk to community residents.

The shots of moving vehicles policy also contains qualifications that limit when shots can be fired (the “person in the vehicle is threatening the officer or another person with deadly force by means other than the vehicle;” the driver “deliberately intended to strike an officer or another person” with the vehicle). The New York City Police Department banned shots at or from moving vehicles in 1972. Shots at moving vehicles are banned by most departments today because of the high degree of risk to by-standers in the vicinity. The new “Consensus” policy opens a door that most departments have for years felt it best to keep closed.

The new “Consensus” policy actually does not represent a consensus among national law enforcement groups. The two national sheriffs groups declined to sign the report, according to the Washington Post, because they felt it was too restrictive rather than too lax. The report was also not signed by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) which issued a very progressive report on police use of force a year ago. The PERF report recommended that police departments adopt more restrictive policies and move to a higher standard than set by the Supreme Court. The report also offered detail discussions of how better training on tactical decision-making can reduce the need to use force in the first place. The “Consensus” report clearly appears as a rebuttal to the PERF report.

The two positive aspects of the Consensus report involve a recommendation of de-escalation and also that officers “have a duty to prevent or stop the use of excessive force by another officer.”

Read the Consensus report here.

Read the 2016 PERF report here.