Using Force Is an Act of Love

Is using force really an act of love? Indeed it is, but many do not understand since there is some “rebranding” going on in the business. As a result, law enforcement is being forced to put on a happy face while being labeled with sinister and callous attributes.

Perhaps one thing we can improve upon is better explaining how and why we are required to use force. And begin with this mindset; we do it out of love!

No, I haven’t lost my marbles, but recent civil settlements are staggering and there is room for improvement, although I believe there are some compromised government officials contributing to these agreements.

Using Force to Intervene When Danger is Present is Love

Regardless, let me explain using children to illustrate. For those who are parents, you will immediately grasp where I’m going with this. My six-year-old grandson is a “Curious George,” and if he begins to wave his hand through the flames in our fire pit, I will not idly sit by and watch him get burned. I’ll do something to redirect the path of his hand. If my eight-year old granddaughter carelessly handles the heated marshmallow skewer near the eyes of her three-year-old brother, I will take action to prevent injury.

In each instance, I will technically use force as I grab the hands from being burned and redirect the skewer keeping my grandson safe. And I’m doing it out of love.

What about the ferocious sibling encounters that involve pulling hair and bending fingers the wrong way? Do we intervene? Of course we do!

Moreover, there is a time to negotiate and a time to act. When an exigency exists, action is required.

Love for Others Is a Motivating Factor

Well, that is what peace officers do for citizens. We intercede on their behalf when someone has illegally stepped out of bounds. The difference is that we are not dealing with children. We are required to engage unwieldy adults (or adolescents) that may be angry, non-compliant, mentally ill, impaired by drugs or alcohol, and in some cases possessing a weapon. Clearly, the emotion we feel at the time is anything but love, but that is still one of the primary motivating factors. If we didn’t care for others, we wouldn’t be in this line of work; we just don’t express it that way!

Force is Used to Overcome Resistance

When force is necessary to overcome resistance, it looks violent, because it usually is. And that’s where we need to check our motivation. I wrote an article in May 2014 titled, “The Positive Attributes of Anger.” In the commentary I made the case for “righteous anger.” I said, “When used as a primal reaction to fear, threats, and injustice, anger is motivating.” Yet I cautioned that we cannot leave our emotional transmission in that gear, as it can easily lead to “bitterness and resentment.” When it becomes the prevailing sentiment, it is no longer “righteous” but “destructive.” Why? Because love has been lost and it needs to be found.

Explaining Actions

When force is used, we also need to explain what could have occurred had we not taken action. Articulating what was prevented is vital. In all likelihood, we will not use the word “love” while explaining our actions, but it should be in our mindset as we express care and compassion for the community.

We also need to be able to explain the principle of pain compliance—the guiding force authorizing a measured amount of anguish until a person decides to surrender. As we know, the state of mind of the officer is critical when determining the lawfulness of his or her actions. Sharing this perspective might douse hot coals with cold water.

Intercede and Control

While I don’t expect cops to heap loving adoration on the criminal element during the course of violent encounters, we do need to maintain the frame of mind that our responsibility is to intercede and control, then leave adjudication (punishment, rehab, etc…) up to the system.

Many peace officers may not think the use of force is an act of love, but it is. It is love in action to provide safety for the community, but it’s also an act that is in the best interest of the criminal offender as well—yet it typically isn’t recognized as such. As we intercede and control, we are potentially saving a wayward individual from further grief down the road.

Educating the Media

When circumstances require interaction with the media, the words we use will set the tone, or set us up to be sucker-punched. I learned a valuable lesson from our public information officer (PIO) when I was a new detective at the scene of an officer involved shooting. “Did you guys shoot the unarmed driver?” asked the reporter.

“The driver was armed with a 3000 lb. projectile,” responded our instructive PIO, “and it was rapidly accelerating toward one of our officers when he opened fire in his effort to preserve life.”

Hence, he had the mindset that we interceded and controlled, while the reporter tried to lure him into a statement that would demonstrate some form of rogue street justice!

Police Work is Getting Increasingly Difficult

I know the job is getting increasingly difficult as many forms of rebellion are exercised and recited more frequently than the pledge of allegiance—and they are being reinforced as the attitude du jour.

While I know it can be difficult, I cautioned officers that worked with me to keep their hands off people unless they planned to make an arrest. Then once they decided to bring someone into custody, do it as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Philosophy of Love is Not Passive

There is nothing about the philosophy of love that is passive. I believe in a firm, but fair response to those who challenge lawful authority.

Perhaps theologian John Stott said it best,

“Some leaders are great champions of the truth and anxious to fight for it, but display little love. Others are great advocates of love, but have no equal commitment to truth, . . . Truth is hard if it is not softened by love, and love is soft if it is not strengthened by the truth.”

Confronting the wolf to restore order when enforcing a righteous law is an act of love. Thank goodness there are sheepdogs willing to do it!

Jim McNeff, editor-in-chief, Law Enforcement Today


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