Monday, May 10, 2021

Austin PD failed to define 'resistance' that justifies use of force, made up 'unique' category of force vs. suspects who're 'fixing to' resist

In 2008, Austin PD changed its "use of force" policy to  a "response to resistance" policy, enacting a "Dynamic Resistance Response Model" (DRRM) developed by national experts with the aim of "helping officers to prevail against allegations of excessive use of force," according to a new report from Austin's Office of Police Oversight.

But unlike other agencies that use a "response to resistance" model, the Austin Police Department's General Orders do not define "resistance," much less outline what force may be used by officers in response.

Instead, resistance is used as a catch all and defined as anything that would justify use of force by a "reasonable" officer. This is language from a US Supreme Court case, Graham v. Connor. 

Grits should mention here: I've been reading technical, bureaucratic, legal, and academic writing on police use-of-force issues for about 25 years. Part One of this memo vis a vis response to resistance, providing both legal and conceptual frameworks for understanding the issue, may be the single most clear, cogent, well-written discussion of the topic I've ever seen. Good job, Farah Muscadin!

She outlines how American police department policies broadly regulate police use of force in one of two ways: the "just be reasonable" approach or the "continuum" approach. The DRRM purports to employ a continuum and APD touts the various resistance categories frequently in its rhetoric surrounding use of force. But Muscadin revealed that the actual APD General Orders do not employ a use-of-force continuum. Instead, they merely say officers' actions will be judged based on whether they're "reasonable," but give no guidance as to details.

Muscadin recommended defining "resistance" and detailing a use-of-force continuum similar to other departments which have adopted the DRRM.

Perhaps most remarkably, though, Muscadin revealed that Austin PD has created an additional type of "resistance" - "preparatory resistance" - which appears to be unique among US policing agencies. 

Most agencies that use DRRM use four categories of resistance: Passive, Defensive, Active, and Aggressive. Some use different language, but the concept is the same: Passive resistance is being non-responsive; defensive is trying to get away; active is engaging in combat with the officer; aggressive are situations putting life and limb at risk.

The threshold between when it's acceptable to use force against a suspect more or less falls between "passive" and "defensive."

But Austin has inserted a fifth category between those two: "Preparatory resistance," defined as when the suspect is "preparing to" offer greater resistance but hasn't yet. (Think of it as "fixing-to" resistance, as in, "the suspect was fixing to resist, so I tazed him.") The OPO reviewed 15 other agencies' use of force policies, including nine that used DRRM, plus state of Texas standards and the original research on which the approach is based, and Austin's use of this "preparatory resistance" category appears to be both "unique" and unjustified. Muscadin recommended getting rid of it entirely. 

This analysis raises two, immediate questions: First, will the City launch a community-driven process, as Muscadin suggested, to "finalize definitions" for various "resistance" categories and to debate the appropriate police responses and policies for each? It's been nearly a month since her report came out and we haven't heard a peep from city or police officials about it. They've all been too busy pushing to relaunch the police academy.

Which brings us to the second issue: If APD hasn't even defined "resistance" in their "response to resistance" policy, and it turns out the policy is a hodge podge that makes up terminology and conflates differing approaches to police use of force standards, is the agency really ready to begin training on it three weeks from now? What do they train on if they haven't even defined "resistance"? When do they tell officers to respond with force?

I don't know. I'm pretty sure they don't know. (Before Muscadin's report, nobody was raising these issues.) But it's another reason to think the city was premature to relaunch the police academy without finishing the publicly accountable makeover reformers were promised last year.


Anonymous said...

Keep Austin weird... Right?

Anonymous said...

Preparatory resistance could be tying ones shoes, popping one’s knuckles, backing up to create distance or stretching immediately prior to running or fighting. There are probably dozens of other acts or omission that could be considered preparatory resistance in combination with a given law enforcement encounter (i.e. traffic stop, call of service, etc.).

Steven Michael Seys said...

In my experience, when an authority figure is given the right to escalate to violence when x happens and x is left undefined, then everything is x.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like the first cousin of "I was in fear for my life."