When the U.S. Supreme Court
declared in its landmark case Graham v. Connor that force used by law officers must be "objectively reasonable," Sam Faulkner
had a question:
The Court provided "no definitive answer regarding what a reasonable officer is or does," says Faulkner, an instructor at the Ohio Peace Officers Training Academy and a lieutenant with the Mechanicsburg (OH) PD.
The 59-year-old Faulkner
has made it his
life mission to de-fog the ambiguity of Graham and provide well-defined guidelines that are supported by most officers and most civilians alike as to what constitutes "reasonable" police responses in force confrontations.
Already, appearing as an expert witness in civil suits, Faulkner
has successfully used the survey results in more than 260 cases to help defeat plaintiffs' exaggerated claims of excessive force.
"When a plaintiff's expert testifies against an officer, he
basically has a personal opinion and his
resume to back it up," Faulkner
told Force Science News
"By getting the survey introduced into evidence, the defendant officer usually can show that thousands of his
fellow professionals, as well as a cross-section of ordinary civilians, concur that his
actions were appropriate, given the circumstances he
That's tough for a plaintiff to overcome."
poll in 1990 as a pencil-and-paper survey conducted among his
classes at the Ohio state academy, but he
quickly sought a broader test group.
"The first year, I put more than 30,000 miles on my personal car, plus air miles, traveling to other states" to capture officers' opinions, he
In some cases, he
has surveyed entire agencies, large and small, on site.
But it's the Internet that has given him his
has surveyed officers from every state and from hundreds of agencies, municipal through federal, and civilians from communities in every region of the country.
On the day recently when Faulkner
walked us through the survey, the cumulative results from both officers and civilians taking the test were identical.
"This can be tremendously helpful to an officer whose responsible reaction to resistance gets challenged and becomes a focus of controversy," Faulkner
Scenario #4, for instance, involves a subject who is "striking or kicking the officer.
One of the response options listed is the Vascular Neck Restraint "(a 'sleeper' or control hold, a rear neck lock, not a choke hold).
That technique might be considered controversial, if not strictly off limits, in some jurisdictions.
Yet 95% of officer and civilian respondents alike have included it among the options they consider reasonable for managing suspects who are resisting arrest by kicking and striking.
As part of his
crusade to broaden his
database and thereby even more solidly define what can be acceptable as reasonable, Faulkner
would like to see certain modifications of the language with which administrators, trainers, and individual officers address force issues.
For one thing, he
discredits the term "use of force.
"The years of dedication that Sam Faulkner
has given to enlightening us on the meaning of 'reasonable' is truly admirable.
insights and explanations of his
research results are informative and revealing.
I encourage all our readers who have not yet taken Sam's questionnaire to do so, see how their answers compare with those of other officers and civilians, and review his
analysis of his
A 128-page on-line book, covering Faulkner's
detailed analysis of results from his
reasonable reactions survey can be accessed free of charge here.