Use of Force Continuum

When we posted about the “reasonable person” element, we also mentioned the elements of deadly force. These elements have been taught in one form or another for decades to police and citizens alike. Of those elements, the element of “preclusion” is why the use of force continuum has become a staple in teaching use of force. In self-defense, reasonable people only use as much force as needed to stop the threat. They do not use too much force, nor do they continue using force once the threat has stopped.

The National Institute of Justice provides us with a standard use of force continuum to consider.[1] Police departments, military branches and other organizations have taken this principal and adapted its concepts to fit their particular environments. We’ve taken the liberty of converting it to a more civilian friendly format; Not based on resistance to police use of force, but based on self-defense.

Force Continuum

  1. Nike Defense (Best Way to Win a Fight is Not to be There)
  2. Cell Phone Defense (Call 911)
  3. Verbal Control-Commands & Command Presence (Verbal Judo)
  4. Light/Soft Body Contact (Push, shove, flashlight)
  5. Pepper Spray/CN or CS Gases
  6. Electrical (Stun Guns & Tasers)
  7. Heavy/Hard Body Contact (Baton, kubaton)
  8. Deadly Weapons (Firearms, Knives)

A use of force continuum provides a clear method for educating the jury in understanding that your force decision was the most reasonable one, based on the threat you were facing; the ability to diagram the standard progression of force from presence, dialogue, empty-hand control, chemical, electronic or impact weapons, up through deadly force, including why skipping steps based on special circumstances are sometimes necessary.[2]

Using Deadly Force is a last resort. There is nothing further down on the list, it’s use cannot be taken back or undone. When deadly force is used, there is an understanding that whomever the deadly force is used on will likely die. Because of this we have the moral and legal duty to avoid using deadly force unless we absolutely have to.

One of the ways we determine if we have to use deadly force or not, is by considering the use of force continuum. If you have any of these lesser forms of force available, and they are likely to be successful if used, then deadly force simply is not on the table yet. This is why it’s advisable to learn a martial art, and/or carry pepper spray, a flashlight, baton, etc. If all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. As responsible, reasonable, moral self-defenders, we don’t want to paint ourselves into a corner when deadly force could have been avoided. Instead, using, and adhering to a force continuum like this one, can help tilt the scales of justice in favor of your reasonable actions.

*This is provided as a Legal Information Resource and should not be treated as legal advice.

  1. National Institute of Justice (2010, August 3) The Use-of-Force Continuum
  2. Grossi, Mark (June 2, 2006). “Setting the record straight on force continuums. The Police Marksman Magazine.

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