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Less Lethal Issues in Law Enforcement
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with Capt. Greg Meyer (ret.)

By Greg Meyer

When a major use of force incident occurs in your jurisdiction, and draws media attention, how does your chief react?
Ideally there is a swift reaction via press release (or press conference, in the case of highly visible controversy) as soon as possible after the incident. Let a few hours go by without comment from "the top" of your agency, and the media will find others to define the issues, speculate about what happened, provide juicy quotes that assume wrongdoing, and undermine the public's confidence in your officers.
The initial press release or statement needs to provide a general overview of the facts of the incident in a way that assures the public that the incident is being investigated, that the investigation will be reviewed at the highest levels, and that the rights of suspects and officers alike will be protected in the process. The statement needs to be crafted to be truthful but must also protect the integrity of the investigation and avoid admissions of wrongdoing. What may appear to be wrongdoing at the outset is often found to be legitimate after the investigation. And regardless, it is foolish to make admissions that will further expose the agency to civil liability.
You can do much to lay the groundwork with the public that will make handling critical incidents easier. You can proactively explain police use of force to the public through your local media.
One of the finest articles I've ever seen that explains police use of force to the public was contained in a newspaper article written by the public information officer of a local sheriff's department. The bulk of my article is a reprint of excerpts from that article, published in The Mountain Enterprise ( on March 14, 2008 and written by Sgt. Ed Komin, Kern County (CA) Sheriff's Department in the wake of a sudden in-custody death that drew much media attention.

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