1. Update
  2. Criminal Justice

The United States Needs National Use of Force Standards

By Joe D'Antonio, July 22, 2020

Every law enforcement agency across the country has what’s known as a “use of force standard” or “use of force continuum.” These regulations govern when officers can use force—and how much they’re permitted to use.

Having these standards in place is essential. But far too many law enforcement agencies have use of force standards that lead to violent escalations. These regulations also often vary greatly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. The solution? Congress must pass legislation that sets a national use of force standard.

Every police department in the United States should have to abide by use of force standards that prioritize de-escalation and aim to prevent police violence. We have seen the consequences of failing to properly regulate use of force: From the officer kneeling on George Floyd’s neck to Tamir Rice getting shot in a park for holding a BB gun, this hole in the justice system has caused immense harm to Black communities in particular for years.

Here’s what this new national standard should look like:

  • Police are required to use de-escalation tactics and should only be permitted to use lethal force when all other options have failed.
  • It is illegal for police officers to use chokeholds, strangleholds, or any other method of subdual that cuts off the flow of oxygen and blood to the brain.
  • Police are required to intervene and report when they see other officers use excessive force, like the policy adopted by the Las Vegas Police Department.

This is not a pipe dream. In fact, before the House and Senate right now is the Justice in Policing Act (H.R. 7120/S. 3912). Included in the Justice in Policing Act is the language of two vital bills: the PEACE Act and the Eric Garner Excessive Force Prevention Act.

The PEACE Act (H.R. 4359) sets a national use of force standard that would only allow law enforcement officers to use lethal force to prevent loss of life or serious bodily injury. The Eric Garner Excessive Force Prevention Act (H.R. 4408) would ban the use any hold or grip that blocks the throat or windpipe.

Urge your members of Congress to co-sponsor the Justice in Policing Act and be a constant voice for racial equality. We can create a new and fairer system of law enforcement, but we need to do so at every level of government and society. Congress should take the lead in this effort.

Background FCNL's Work on Policing 

America needed police reform before March 13, 2020, when Breonna Taylor was shot in her home by police. America needed police reform before May 25, 2020, when George Floyd was killed when a police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes. America needs police reform now.

Joe D'Antonio

  • Program Assistant, Criminal Justice and Election Integrity

Joe D’Antonio was the Program Assistant for Criminal Justice and Election Integrity for 2019-2020. His primary responsibilities included lobbying members of Congress, writing policy updates, and conducting legislative research.