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'Objectively reasonable' | Pa. police receive training on responsible use of force

Instructors from the Department of Homeland Security were at the Pennsylvania State Police Academy on Friday to offer training on responsible use of force.

HERSHEY, Pa. — Instructors from the Department of Homeland Security were at the Pennsylvania State Police Academy on Friday to offer training on responsible use of force.

The 18 participants are members of different police departments throughout the state. 

As part of the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers (FLETC)’s Use of Force Instructor Training Program, the participants will take what they learn to their local departments.

The training comes in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, as police use of force has come under public scrutiny.

“Is use of force an important topic in today’s society? Are police officers under more scrutiny now, maybe, than they were when I first came on the job 30 years ago? They are,” said Todd Hoover, lead instructor at the training program.

The goal for police officers is to use “objectively reasonable” force. A Supreme Court ruling on the 1989 case Graham v. Connor outlined several factors that can be used to determine whether police force is reasonable, including the “severity of the crime at issue,” “whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others” and “whether he is actively resisting or attempting to evade arrest by flight.”

Reasonable force can change depending on the situation, so training participants practiced several different scenarios.

In one, a suspect had killed two people, and shot and injured a police officer. He had threatened to also kill his mother-in-law. In the scenario, several police were stationed outside the mother-in-law’s house when the suspect arrived carrying a rifle. In several run-throughs of the scenario, police shot the suspect as he walked to the front door of the house.

In another scenario, a person known to local police had stopped taking medication for a mental health issue and had come to believe that someone was trying to kill her. She was becoming aggressive and holding a knife. In that scenario, police were able to talk her down and handcuff her without using any force.

“Some of our training doesn’t actually end in the use of force, so that we make sure we teach them that that is a possible outcome and in fact most of the time that is the outcome,” said instructor Dion DeRoia of FLETC’s legal training division.

Instructors said this kind of training protects both police and citizens from the consequences of unnecessary use of force.

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