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Police 'Use of Force' Guidelines Getting Overhaul: What Are They Now?

By Erica Demarest | December 31, 2015 5:36am
 Police trainees stage mock arrests during an officer recruitment expo.
Police trainees stage mock arrests during an officer recruitment expo.
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DNAinfo/Alex Nitkin

CHICAGO — Following several high-profile police shootings, including one that left a 55-year-old bystander dead, Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday promised "a major overhaul" of the Chicago Police Department's "use of force" policy.

So just what is that policy?

Put simply: It's a series of guidelines that dictate when, why and how officers should apply force in the field. The goal is to gain control of a potentially dangerous situation with "reasonable" and "proportional" actions.

For instance: If someone is cooperating with police, a verbal warning should suffice, according to CPD guidelines. But someone actively resisting officers might warrant pepper spray or a Taser, the guidelines say, and someone armed with a gun could justify lethal force.

In potential force scenarios, according to guidelines updated in March 2015, people are grouped into three different categories: cooperative, resister and assailant.


Cooperative citizens don't require physical force, according to department guidelines. Police presence alone is often enough to maintain order, but sometimes verbal warnings are needed.


Resisters fall into two groups:

• Passive resisters, or people who simply don't comply with police orders, could warrant wrist or arm grabs, control instruments or "pain compliance techniques" (think: applying pressure to pain sensors), according to CPD guidelines.

Officers are allowed to use pepper spray on passive resisters in cars or large crowds (e.g. demonstrations, sports championship celebrations) if they receive permission from an on-scene supervisor.

• Active resisters, or those who physically resist police, could warrant stunning (striking or slapping, but not punching, someone), a canine response (releasing a trained police dog) or a Taser, department guidelines say. Only those trained in Tasers are allowed to operate them. (As of this week, only about one in five CPD officers can do so, though that is about to change, according to the mayor and police superintendent).

Police can use pepper spray on active resisters who are running away, under certain conditions, with supervisor approval. If that person is flailing his or her limbs, and not part of a group, police can use pepper spray without approval.


The final group, assailants, are considered people who use or threaten force against themselves or others. Here, there are three distinct categories.

• People who are aggressive without weapons may be struck, punched or kicked by police. Officers can use a baton as a "primary impact weapon." With permission, they can also use pepper-spray projectiles.

• People whose actions could cause physical injury are the second category. This could include people who are armed with a deadly weapon and refuse to drop it. All of the above techniques are fair game here.

• People whose actions could cause death warrant guns and the use of deadly force, CPD guidelines say. Chokeholds are considered a use of deadly force. Officers can also use any of the tactics listed above.

When Is Deadly Force Allowed?

Police are only allowed to use deadly force if they believe it could prevent death or great bodily harm to a fellow officer or member of the public. That means police are not allowed to fire at people who are trying to commit suicide but pose no harm to others.

Police are not allowed to fire into crowds, fire warning shots, fire into buildings or fire through doors or windows. They can't fire into a moving vehicle if that car is the only force being used against the officer or a civilian.

However, police are allowed to fire at someone who is getting away if that person a) is using a deadly weapon, b) indicates he or she will endanger human life, and/or c) has committed a forcible felony (e.g. murder, sexual abuse, kidnapping).


A graphic illustrating the use of force in Chicago Police guidelines indicates that police see a fine line between "probable ineffective control" (losing control of the situation) and "probably excessive control." [Chicago Police Department]

Read the full guidelines below:

Chicago Police Department Use of Force

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