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Use of Force: Inside look at protocols police officers use

Recruits from different law enforcement agencies are the region with one thing in common. They’re completing basic academy at the Ben Clark Training Center in Riverside. 

A total of 70 hours is dedicated to defensive tactics – or use of force – which includes ground fighting.

“Our curriculum is based on Jiu-Jitsu and they’ll also learn personal body weapons. Punching, kicking. That’s all very Krav Maga-based and then weapon takeaways, weapon retention," said Nick Nagle, defensive tactics sergeant for the Riverside County Sheriff’s Office.

Pairing up to test their takedown and control hold skills along with hand-cuffing.

“At this point if somebody was resisting you’d have to use some force, I’m assuming, correct?” News Channel 3's Jennifer Franco asked Alvin Johnson of the Riverside County Sheriff's Office.

Johnson answered, “We could, if need be.”

Getting through the physical portion also means learning the basic principles of searching – when they can and can’t. 

When trainees aren’t in the mat room putting their physical skills to the test, they’re in the classroom learning the fundamentals of use of force.

Learning the legal aspects of use of force is a crucial part of the groundwork. It's what Captain Chris Durham specializes in.

“My job is to teach them Constitutional laws regarding force, when they can use appropriate force, and ultimately I want them to be problem solvers,” Durham said.

These legal aspects are reinforced during the physical portion.

This requires an understanding that as peace officers – they’ll be dealing with people at the worst times of their lives. 

Recruits get an overview of force options and when they’re appropriate to use.

The most recent data from the California Department of Justice (available at the bottom of the article) shows use of force incidents involving the Riverside County Sheriff’s Office are trending down.

“We have tools on us to prevent excessive force or shootings. We have less lethal, we have 40 mm, tasers, pepper ball launchers, so just because we’re using force doesn’t mean we didn’t deescalate,” Durham said.

Watching videos to learn by example exposes recruits to different situations they may encounter. This way they know what steps to take before things take a turn for the worse. 

“I definitely want to have them slow things down use their heads show some sympathy and some empathy and try to talk people down,” Durham said.

Lessons also cover the benefits of deescalation – like reduced injury to officers and the public – and the positive impact on public trust.

State law requires law enforcement agencies to report use of force incidents that result in serious bodily injury or death of either a civilian or an officer.  

“At the station level, every use of force is evaluated by the supervisor, the lieutenant, up and down the chain of command to identify any issues, whether they’re legal or training issues,” Nagle said.

You may be wondering if peace officers are required to complete use of force training and how frequently. The Riverside County Sheriff’s Office offers multiple focused courses that are voluntary. 

Statewide – the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training sets the bar.

“That bare minimum is eight hours every two years, but the training at the stations is ongoing,” Nagle said.

The Riverside County Sheriff's Office sent News Channel 3 its statistics of use of force incidents from Jan. 1, 2021, through June 30, 2024.

  • 2.8 million calls for service
  • 4,800 use-of-force incidents
  • 32 deputy-involved shootings
    • 25 of the deputy-involved shooting that were fatal.

"Not all calls for service result in a contact; however, this number does not account for the millions of contacts our deputies make that do not rise to the level of an arrest, a call for service or use of force incident.  I would also like to note that some of our use-of-force incidents result in multiple deputies utilizing force; therefore, the approximate 4800 use-of-force incidents do not necessarily mean there are 4800 separate use-of-force incidents. Some of the incidents may have involved multiple deputies. Additionally, these statistics do not include minor use of forces such as control holds with no injuries or complaints of pain." 

- Lieutenant Deirdre Vickers, public information officer for the Riverside County Sheriff's Office

"When our deputies decide to use force to control a situation, make an arrest, or defend themselves or others, they are required to notify a sergeant immediately. This initiates an internal review of the force to ensure it was appropriate for the situation," Vickers said.

Data From the California Department of Justice:

  • 2020 had 20 incidents, including five civilian deaths and nine cases of serious injury. 
  • 2021 had 10 incidents,  with seven civilian deaths and one serious injury. 
  • 2022 had seven incidents, six of which were civilian deaths and two serious injuries. 
  • No data is publicly available for 2023
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Jennifer Franco

Jennifer Franco is the weekend anchor/weekday reporter for KESQ News Channel 3


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