A Discussion on Police Use-of-Force

June 2020

As part of the kickoff to Morgan Lewis’s 11th annual Community Impact Week a team of our lawyers took on one of the most critical issues of our time, one that has roiled communities across the globe: the appropriate use of force by police. In a WebEx available across the firm, these four lawyers—all who have worked closely with San Francisco officials on use-of-force policies—engaged in a panel discussion regarding their research and recommendations, and how they relate to current police practices throughout the United States.

These lawyers, Colin West, Lucy Wang, Michelle Park Chiu, and Kevin Benedicto, assisted the Blue Ribbon Panel on Transparency, Accountability, and Fairness in Law Enforcement, which San Francisco established in 2016. They also participated in a working group advising the San Francisco Police Commission, which led to the San Francisco Police Department’s adoption of a revised written use-of-force policy in 2016.

In their presentation, the Morgan Lewis lawyers discussed an eight-point set of policy recommendations, known as #8cantwait that is part of the Campaign Zero Project, which has shown demonstrable results in significantly lowering killings by police. The San Francisco Police Department’s revised use-of-force policy reflects a number of these recommendations. Although many jurisdictions have been slow to adopt the policies, those that have report some significant drops in fatalities, including a 25% decline in deaths as a result of requiring police to exhaust all alternatives before shooting, and a similar drop when all use of force is reported.

The full list:

  • Exhaust all alternatives before shooting
  • Require comprehensive reporting of all uses of force
  • Ban chokeholds and strangleholds
  • Establish a use-of-force continuum
  • Require de-escalation
  • Establish a duty to intervene
  • Ban shooting at moving vehicles
  • Mandate warnings before shooting

The policy recommendations build upon, and in some cases, go beyond earlier recommendations that Blue Ribbon panel members included in their 2016 report found here. That document called for regular updates and reviews of use-of-force policies and limits on such techniques as carotid restraints (chokeholds). It also called for an emphasis on de-escalation, including appropriate training in de-escalation and proportional use of force and implicit bias. The panel also recommended expanding the definition of what constitutes a reportable use of force and the amount and type of information the reports include, such as demographic data. It also addressed the use of police body cameras.

At bottom, the lawyers noted that research shows more restrictive use-of-force policies can reduce killings by police and save lives. We can work together to make change.