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Advisory Council on Ethics (ACE)

Advisory Council on Ethics Opinion No. 2

June 3, 1997

Should a Correctional Officer avoid using force in a potentially violent situation with an offender when the use of force could have been justified?

An officer wrote the ACE about a situation he found himself in. He had a new officer doing on-the-job training (OJT) when he came upon an offender who was yelling and cursing. He ordered the offender back to his housing area and the offender refused becoming verbally abusive. The new employee seemed to become angry at the offender and the experienced officer was faced with a choice. Should he use force to make the offender go to his housing area or should he attempt to verbally resolve the problem? He knew he could justify the use of force in this situation. As he approached the offender he felt that a use of force was inevitable so he called for additional staff to back him up. The show of force was sufficient to prevent a use of force and the offender complied with the order to go to his housing area.

The officer wrote a disciplinary case on the offender and let the disciplinary process determine what would happen to the offender. The new officer questioned what had happened and felt that the experienced officer had made the wrong decision. He felt that they could have "taken care of business" and showed the inmate to respect and obey. He suggested that the experienced officer was weak.

It is the opinion of the Advisory Council on Ethics that the way you handled the incident you wrote to ACE about was correct. By handling it without force, you avoided the possibility of injury to yourself, the offender, or other staff. The new employee you had working with you may not appreciate how the situation was handled, but he probably would not have wanted to do the paperwork involved in a major use of force, go through a review of a use of force by IAD, or be injured. Any time force has to be used, there is a possibility that an injury could occur and it is not always the offender that is injured.

The new employee may not appreciate how the situation was handled, but he might later after he has seen his share of incidents such as these. You handled the situation in a manner that was proper because you are required by the Use of Force Plan to use all other options before you use force. You did a good job and set a good example for the new employee working with you.