Examining Less Lethal Force Policy and the Force Continuum: Results From a National Use-of-Force Study

William Terrill, Eugene A. Paoline

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

70 Scopus citations


The less lethal coercive power granted to police officers is not without its restrictions. Such limitations are delineated per the United States Supreme Court, via Graham v. Connor, applying the broad standard of objective reasonableness. A far more salient operational guide to assessing what is objectively reasonable rests within departmental use-of-force policy, which like other police policies can vary widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. To date, comprehensive empirical inquiries regarding this jurisdictional variation is unknown. At best, extant research has noted that many agencies tend to instruct officers via a force continuum, although the nature (i.e., various designs, levels, and ordering of force tactics, and appropriate force relative to citizen resistance) of such policies are relatively unknown. Based on a multiwave national survey of policing agencies, the following study examines not only the extent to which departments utilize a use-of-force continuum within their less lethal force policy, but also the types of continuum designs used and the ways in which various force tactics and citizen resistance types are situated along a continuum. The results reveal that more than 80% of responding agencies utilize a use-of-force continuum, of which the linear design is the most popular. However, the placement of various force tactics and consideration of suspect resistance vary greatly across departments. In essence, there is no commonly accepted force continuum used by practitioners. The implications of these findings are considered.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)38-65
Number of pages28
JournalPolice Quarterly
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • administrative rulemaking
  • coercion
  • police
  • policy
  • use of force

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Law


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