Police Policy Comments — Use of Force Policy

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Police Officers are delegated the authority and responsibility to protect life and property, and to apprehend criminal offenders. In the performance of these duties, officers may encounter resistance that necessitates the use of objectively reasonable force as authorized by law.

The Hillsborough Police Department (HPD) recognizes the critical responsibility that attaches anytime an officer uses force against a citizen as may be necessary to protect the community and enforce the laws. In addition, the HPD recognizes the need to treat all citizens with respect and dignity. It is the policy of the HPD that all members recognize the importance of human life, show respect for basic human rights and have an intolerant attitude toward abusive treatment of all persons. Nothing in this policy shall be construed to permit, excuse or justify the use of unreasonable or excessive force.

The Hillsborough Police Department requires all members to:

  • Exhaust all reasonable options to achieve voluntary compliance from a citizen before resorting to the use of force;
  • Use only the amount of force that is reasonably necessary to achieve the officer’s lawful goals; and
  • Deescalate the level of force being used as soon as reasonably possible when the situation warrants.

The information contained herein is designed to be a guide for officers in responding to a myriad of situations that are too numerous to predict. In all cases, an officer’s actions will be judged by an objectively reasonable standard – that the facts and circumstances, including reasonable inferences drawn therefrom, known to the officer at the time he or she uses force, could cause another reasonable officer to believe that force is appropriate and to have acted in a similar fashion.


Reasonableness – a legal standard used to evaluate an officer’s action(s) based on the totality of the circumstances from the perspective of a reasonable officer. Could another reasonable officer, given the same circumstances, have come to the same conclusion and taken the same actions?

Serious Physical Injury – a physical injury that creates a substantial risk of death or that causes serious permanent disfigurement, coma, and/or a permanent or protracted condition that results in extreme pain, loss or impairment of the function of a part of the body, or that results in prolonged hospitalization.

Deadly Force – any force which by its nature or application can be reasonably anticipated to result in serious physical injury or death.


After exhausting reasonable attempts to gain voluntary compliance, when it is objectively reasonable under the circumstances, and in accordance with North Carolina General Statute 15A-401(d):

  1. Officers of the Hillsborough Police Department are authorized to use force upon another person when, and to the extent they believe it is reasonably necessary:
    1. To effect the arrest or prevent the escape from custody of a person the officer reasonably believes has committed a criminal offense, unless the officer knows the arrest is unauthorized; or
    2. To defend themselves or a third party from what the officer reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of physical force while effecting or attempting to effect an arrest or while preventing or attempting to prevent an escape.
  2. Officers of the Hillsborough Police Department are authorized to use deadly physical force upon another person ONLY when that force is, or appears to be, reasonably necessary to the officer:
    1. To defend themselves or a third party from what the officers reasonably believe to be the use or imminent use of deadly physical force; or
    2. To effect the arrest or to prevent the escape from custody of a person who the officer reasonably believes is attempting to escape by means of a deadly weapon, or who, by his conduct or any other means, indicates that he presents an imminent threat of death or serious physical injury to others unless apprehended without delay.
  3. Officers of the Hillsborough Police Department are forbidden from using deadly force to prevent the escape of a person from custody imposed upon him as a result of conviction for a felony as provided by N.C.G.S. 15A-401(d)(2)(c), unless one of elements described in B-2 above is present.


Resistance is the immediately apparent (or reasonably anticipated by an officer based on their training and experience) unwillingness of a citizen to follow lawful directions and cooperate with an officer’s lawful performance of their duties; and/or actions that constitute an assault or put an officer in fear for their safety.

Resistance can start with questioning and passive behaviors and progress through assaultive behaviors to the use of deadly force. For the purposes of this policy, resistance is classified generally in the following continuum:

  1. Passive Resistance – passive resistance includes verbal and non-verbal noncompliance, refusal to follow directions, questioning behaviors that delay an officer in conducting their duties, and physically passive refusal to move or follow instructions.
  2. Active Resistance – active resistance includes fleeing and physical resistance to escape or prevent an officer’s attempts to conduct his/her lawful duties. Examples would include twisting, pulling or pushing away from an officer attempting to apply handcuffs.
  3. Assaultive Behaviors – physical resistance includes pushing, physical strikes, throwing items at an officer, or other contact that could be classified as an assault under North Carolina law and/or reasonably appears to have been intended to cause the officer harm. 
  4. Serious Bodily Harm and Deadly Force – these are serious assaultive behaviors that could reasonably be anticipated to result in death or serious injury to an officer or a third party.


In all encounters a law enforcement officer has with citizens, the officer’s presence and ability to communicate are the first tools available to overcome resistance or potential resistance. Whenever possible, officers of the Hillsborough Police Department shall utilize every reasonable effort to gain voluntary compliance through communication before resorting to the use of force. Officers shall ensure that their identity is apparent and that they promptly inform a citizen of the reason for any detention or arrest unless doing so will compromise the safety of the officers or the effectiveness of the investigation.


The point at which it is appropriate for an officer to move from attempting to gain voluntary compliance to the lawful application of some type of force to resolve a situation will vary based on the facts and circumstances surrounding the level of resistance an officer is facing. As a general guide, it is appropriate for an officer to begin to apply the Use of Force Continuum when:

  1. Security of other people and property is threatened – others are in imminent jeopardy or property under your control is threatened.
  2. Attack on the officer - Whenever an officer is assaulted or feels an assault or attack is imminent or their safety is in danger.
  3. Flight – Whenever a subject unlawfully flees, or in the officer’s opinion is preparing to unlawfully flee, an officer’s presence.
  4. Excessive repetition – after it is clear to an officer that no voluntary compliance is forthcoming and the officer has exhausted all reasonable verbal options.

NOTE: The choice of force option must always be reasonable and proportionate to the danger or situation the officer is facing. For example, the amount of force that is reasonable to protect property is less than what might be reasonable in response to a dangerous threat.


Us of Force Continuum
Officers must continually assess the situation and escalate/deescalate their use of force based on the circumstances they are facing.

The level of resistance being faced, the officer’s safety and the subject’s safety should all be taken into consideration when selecting a use of force option.
  1. Force options exist in a continuum and the options available often overlap and multiple techniques may be used in coordination in response to resistance exhibited by a suspect. Every situation can be unique.
    1. Verbal commands – during any encounter, unless an imminent or immediate threat makes it impractical to do so, some form of verbal commands or directions shall be given to a citizen who is exhibiting resistance.
    2. Soft hand guidance – physically touching a subject to provide guidance, hold them in place, apply handcuffs or search them. Soft hand guidance is reasonably anticipated to occur in any detention situation, regardless of how compliant a subject is, as a matter of safety.
    3. Physical Intervention and Compliance – contact intended to force compliance. The choice of technique or tool shall be made based on the resistance being faced and intended to minimize the possibility of serious injury to the officer or the citizen.
      • Control techniques – pulling, pushing or dragging a citizen, taking a citizen to the ground, using pressure points, arm bars, or other control tactics.
      • Less-Lethal – conducted energy weapons (TASER) or aerosol spray
      • Hard hands – physical strikes with a closed fist or some other part of the body that could be reasonably anticipated to cause and injury.
    4. Impact weapons – baton or other device (such as a radio or flashlight) used to strike a subject.
    5. Deadly Force – firearm and/or any use of force option or tool that by its use is intended or can reasonably be anticipated to cause death or serious bodily injury.
  2. Officers must choose the most appropriate level of force based on the situation they are facing and their training and experience. The force option selected must be reasonable, appropriate and proportional to the level of resistance an officer is encountering or reasonably believes imminent. The graphic below is included as a guide to help officers understand the selection of the appropriate level of force in response to resistance and aggression.


  1. During the course of their duties, it is reasonably anticipated that officers may face situations that require the display of a level of force when confronted by an unknown potential threat even when a direct observable threat may not be present. These Preventative Displays of Force are permitted when officers face potential dangers due to the unknown nature of a situation, even though a visible threat is not present, to allow an officer to respond to a situation that could conceal hidden dangers quickly. Examples of these situations include:
    1. Searching a building after a break in is discovered;
    2. Searching the woods or a structure for a suspect who is fleeing or hiding;
    3. Conducting a high-risk vehicle stop;
    4. At the end of a foot or vehicle pursuit when the suspect has stopped fleeing.
  2. Officers who utilize a Preventative Display of Force shall deescalate that level of force as soon as they can reasonably determine that a scene or situation is safe; or that any person they have made the preventative display toward is no longer a threat appropriate for the level being displayed.
  3. A Preventative Display of Force will be reported and investigated as a Use of Force incident. Situations where only a Preventative Display of Force is present will be recorded as a Preventative Display, not a Use of Force. A record of Preventative Displays will be maintained as part of the Personnel Early Warning System and reviewed any time a PEWS is triggered.


  1. Conducted Energy Weapons (CEWs) (TASER)
    1. In order to reduce the risk of unintentional injury, the use of an CEW should be avoided on the following groups of people unless exigent circumstances exist:
      • Persons who are believed to be 65 years of age or older;
      • Women who are reasonably believed to be pregnant;
      • Visibly frail persons;
      • On any person who is in control of a vehicle that is in gear or in motion;
      • On any person’s head, neck or genitalia;
      • On any person who is in a position which creates the likelihood of significant additional injury other than those effects reasonably anticipated due to the use of the CEW.
    2. A CEW will NOT be used under the following circumstances:
      • On a person who is actively being sprayed with any aerosol weapon;
      • In proximity to any known flammable or highly combustible substances that may be ignited by the CEW to include any person who has been exposed to known flammable or highly combustible substances such as gasoline.
    3. Removal of CEW probes in non-sensitive areas may be done by officers according to probe-removal training guidelines. Officers, or other trained personnel, will provide first aid following the removal of the probes as needed.
    4. Medical personnel (such as EMS) shall be utilized remove probes located in sensitive areas, probes that have broken off and are imbedded under the skin, or in any other situation where the officers on the scene feel their use is appropriate.
  2. Aerosol Spray – Oleoresin Capsicum (Pepper) Spray
    1. In order to reduce the risk of unintentional injury, the use of an aerosol spray should be avoided on the following groups of people unless exigent circumstances exist:
      • Persons who are believed to be 65 years of age or older;
      • On any person who is in control of a vehicle that is in gear or in motion;
      • On any person who is in a position which creates the likelihood of significant additional injury other than those effects reasonably anticipated due to the use of the aerosol spray.
    2. Once a subject has been sprayed, subdued and the scene is safe, officers shall monitor the person’s breathing and consciousness. As soon as reasonable, officers shall decontaminate the effected prisoner by flushing the exposed area with fresh water and then exposing the area to fresh air.
    3. EMS shall be contacted if the subject who has been sprayed:
      •  appears to be taking an excessive amount of time to recover,
      • exhibits any signs of respiratory or other distress,
      • complains of a preexisting respiratory condition;
      • was wearing contact lenses and/or complains of having a preexisting eye injury or condition;
      • requests medical treatment.
  3. CEWs and Aerosol Sprays shall only be used in situations where the subject poses an immediate and continuing danger, or to stop the flight of a subject who is trying to avoid arrest and who the officer can reasonably articulate presents a risk to the safety of the community or others if not immediately apprehended. Non-compliance and non-violent physical resistance do not necessarily create this immediate and continuing danger.  CEWs and Aerosol Sprays shall not be used on a subject who physically resists in a non-violent manner, unless the situation is such that an officer could reasonably conclude that the resistance presents some immediate danger, despite his/her non-violent character.


  2. FIRING AT OR FROM MOVING VEHICLES IS PROHIBITED except where the officer reasonably believes there is an imminent threat of death or serious physical injury to himself or a third person if the officer does not do so, and that such action is the only reasonable means of protecting himself and/or a third person.
  3. CHOKE HOLDS and similar techniques which restrict a person’s ability to breathe or interrupt the flow of blood to the brain ARE PROHIBITED UNLESS DEADLY FORCE IS AUTHORIZED.
  4. HEAD BLOWS WITH IMPACT WEAPON: The use by an officer of a baton or other impact weapon to strike an intentional blow to a person's head is prohibited unless deadly force is authorized.
  5. HANDCUFFED SUSPECTS: – Officers may not physically strike a handcuffed, in-custody suspect unless that suspect is combative and there is no available alternative to control the suspect. A Taser or pepper spray may be used on a handcuffed subject only in extreme circumstances in which the subject is displaying assaultive behaviors and attempting to physically restrain the suspect will likely result in a physical injury to the officer.
  6. DISPLAY AND BRANDISHMENT: Except for general maintenance, storage, inspection or authorized training, officers shall not draw, point, or exhibit their firearm, CEW (TASER), aerosol spray (pepper spray) or other weapon unless circumstances create reasonable cause to believe that it may be necessary to use the weapon in conformance with the law and Departmental policy.
  7. WEAPONS AND DEVICES PERMITTED: Officers may carry and use only those weapons and control devices which have been issued by the Hillsborough Police Department, or which have been specifically authorized in accordance with departmental directives.
  8. UNCONVENTIONAL METHODS: When an officer reasonably believes that they are being overpowered and/or that serious physical injury or death are imminent, they may use any methods, regardless of how unconventional, to protect their life.


  1. Medical Attention - After any use of force situation has stabilized, the first and foremost duty of every officer is to assess those involved for injuries and seek any medical intervention needed. EMS shall be contacted any time a subject:
    1. has a visible injury,
    2. is complaining of an injury or medical condition (such as chest pains or difficulty breathing),
    3. has had a CEW (Taser) or pepper spray used on them and the circumstances described in H.1.d. and H.2.c. above exist,
    4. has been struck with an impact weapon or object that could reasonably be expected to have caused and injury, and/or,
    5. has had any force that could be classified as deadly force used against them.
  2. Notification of on-duty supervisor – the on duty supervisor shall be notified and respond to the scene any time an officer uses force above the level of soft-hand guidance. Unless it is necessary for safety, medical reasons or for purposes of diffusing the situation, the suspect shall not be moved from the initial location until the supervisor has arrived.
  3. Secure the scene – The scene of the use of force incident shall be secured and any witnesses identified and separated. Anything of evidentiary value shall be identified and not disturbed initially.
  4. Collecting evidence/Photographs of Injuries – All evidence shall be collected and turned in to property. Any audio and video recordings of the event are to be identified and retained for the review. Whenever feasible, photographs are to be taken of any injury or alleged injury, including to document the absence of visible injuries when a complaint of injury is made and no injury is apparent. Officers with visible injuries shall also be photographed.
  5. Command notification – All use of force incidents require the on-duty supervisor to make a command notification. For incidents involving a serious injury, this notification must be made immediately by telephone. For all other incidents, notification can be made electronically as soon as practical and include the report number, employee involved and extent of any injuries.
  6. Charging for resistance and assault - If an officer exercising police authority encounters resistance that clearly justifies a charge of resisting arrest or assaulting an officer, these charges should be made immediately.


During the course of their duties, not every incident of physical contact or resistance encountered by an officer will require reporting under this policy. Situations that are resolved through an officer’s presence, commands and the soft-hand guidance required to effect an arrest are generally considered non-reportable unless they meet the reporting requirements described below.

  1. Reporting is required any time an officer in the course of his/her duties:
    1. Uses force beyond the level of soft-hand guidance;
    2. Uses force and an injury is sustained or alleged;
    3. Deploys a police canine in an attempt to actively apprehend (not merely track) a suspect;
    4. Displays and threatens the use of a Taser, pepper spray, impact weapon or firearm. This includes a preventative display of force as described in section G. Threatened use is defined as pointing or displaying the weapon or tool in a way that a reasonable person could believe its use may be imminent.
    5. Discharges their duty firearm, regardless of intent or their duty status. (Exception: approved and appropriate firearms training and range activities.)
  2. When reporting is required:
    1. The primarily involved officer (officer who encountered resistance and/or displayed or used force) shall complete an incident report in the RMS system describing the details of the total incident. In addition to any other appropriate offense codes, the “Use of Force” box shall be checked. 
    2. The primarily involved officer shall complete a “Response to Resistance” report (Form HPD-501a) and turn it in to their immediate supervisor;
    3. Any other officers who were involved or witnessed the incident must include supplemental narratives in the incident report;
    4. The incident report and Response to Resistance report shall be completed as soon as practical but must be turned in prior to the officer(s) going off-duty for that day. If the primarily involved officer is unable to complete their reporting responsibilities, the on-duty supervisor will complete these reports on the officer’s behalf.  
  3. Incidents that do not meet the reporting requirements are considered non-reportable and require no special notifications or procedures and shall not be documented or investigated as a use of force.


  1. Supervisory review
    1. Anytime a reportable use of force occurs, the on-duty supervisor will conduct a review of the incident and forward all the documentation and their findings to their Commander by the end of the Supervisor’s duty day unless otherwise directed by that Commander or a higher authority.
    2. The Supervisor’s review shall include, at a minimum, the reviewer’s own observations and information collected at the incident scene including any statements from witnesses or others involved; a visual inspection of the suspect and officers for injuries; an interview with the involved officers; a review of all written documentation; and a review of any audio or video recordings available. The supervisor’s actions, conclusions and findings shall be documented in a memorandum to their Commander.
    3. If at any time during the incident or the review, the supervisor feels that there may be a policy violation, material inconsistency or that the force used may be excessive their commander (or another member of the command staff if their commander is unavailable) shall immediately be contacted and notified of their concern.
  2. Command Review
    1. The Division Commander will conduct a review of the incident to ensure a complete and accurate picture of the incident has been established and will submit their findings and all the documentation of the incident to the Chief of Police for final review.
    2. The Division Commander’s review shall include reviewing all written documentation; collecting and reviewing any video or audio recordings of the event; conducting additional and follow-up interviews as needed; and a review of the officer’s past performance to ensure there are no trends that would activate the Personnel Early Warning System.
    3. The commander’s actions, conclusions and findings shall be documented in a memorandum to the Chief of Police. The commander’s review must be completed and the entire use of force file submitted to the Chief of Police:
      •  within 5 working days from the date of the incident for any incident that does not involved a significant injury
      • Within 48 hours from the occurrence of the incident if it involves a significant injury
      • Additional time may be granted by the Chief of Police based on receiving a written request from the Division Commander.
  3. Excessive force/policy violations - any time a Commander feels that a use of force may be deemed excessive and/or outside of policy, the Chief of Police shall be immediately notified. Depending on the nature of the potential violation and/or the extent of any injuries to a citizen involved, the Chief of Police may direct the investigation to be transferred to internal affairs or to an outside agency.


  1. Preliminary response: The on-duty patrol supervisor shall respond directly to the incident location and: ensure the scene is safe and threats have been eliminated; ensure any needed medical aid is being provided; notify command staff personnel; secure the scene and post  officers to provide perimeter security pending the arrival of higher command authorities.  Witnesses should be identified and detained for questioning by the assigned investigators.
  2. Custody of Discharged Firearms: Any officer who has discharged a firearm during a use of force incident shall, once the threat to his/her safety has been eliminated, maintain custody and preserve the weapon’s condition until such time as it can be turned over to authorities investigating the discharge. In the event that the officer is injured or otherwise unable to maintain custody and control of the weapon, a supervisor shall secure the weapon as evidence and submit it to investigators.
  3. Criminal Investigation: The Chief of Police shall request that the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) conduct an independent criminal investigation of any incident involving the use of deadly force by a department member that results in death or serious physical injury to any person. The role of the SBI is to obtain all of the facts so that the District Attorney can make a determination as to any criminal liability on the part of the involved law enforcement officer(s). The SBI has established procedures for that agency’s investigation of such incidents that are designed to ensure the public’s confidence in the objectivity and integrity of such investigations. Procedures to be expected include:
    1. A team of SBI agents will immediately respond to handle the initial aspects of the investigation (i.e. crime scene processing, interview of witnesses, etc.) and assume overall responsibility for conducting the investigation;
    2. The Police Department will turn over all aspects of the criminal investigation to the SBI in such incidents. 
    3. It will be standard practice for our agency to release the name of the involved officer(s) to the news media, and to confirm that the SBI has been requested to investigate the matter; 
    4. When involved officers are interviewed by the SBI, the officer will be advised that the investigation is criminal in nature and advised of his/her constitutional rights accordingly.  Unless the officer specifically requests an attorney and/or someone else to be present during the interview, no one other than SBI personnel will participate in the interview;
    5. Upon completion of their investigation, the SBI will submit a written report to the District Attorney for his review and decision if further investigation or prosecution is warranted.  Officers should remain aware that in such cases, the submission of the SBI’s final report to the District Attorney might be delayed pending receipt of laboratory reports and/or medical examiner findings.
  4. Administrative Investigation:  An internal administrative investigation shall be conducted into the use of deadly force by a department member that results in death or serious physical injury to any person. The investigation will be the responsibility of a designee of the Chief of Police and shall be conducted in accordance with the applicable provisions of General Order 320 - Internal Affairs.
  5. Investigation of vehicular related use of deadly force: In the event of a traffic collision arising from an officer operating a police vehicle in a manner that may constitute a use of deadly force (e.g., moving roadblock, forcible stop, etc.), and that results in the serious injury or death of any person, the Chief of Police will request that the N.C. State Highway Patrol conduct the investigation. The Highway Patrol will be responsible for requesting additional investigative assistance from the State Bureau of Investigation, if needed.
  6. Administrative Leave: Any officer involved in a deadly force incident resulting in death or serious injury to any person shall be placed on non-disciplinary administrative leave. This leave shall not be interpreted to imply or indicate that the officer has acted improperly. While on administrative leave, the officer shall remain available for official department business, including interviews and statements regarding the incident, and may be recalled to duty at any time. Upon returning to duty, the officer may be assigned to administrative duties for a period of time deemed appropriate by the Chief of Police.
  7. Critical Incident Debriefing: In all cases where any person has been seriously injured or killed as a result of the application of deadly force by an officer, the involved officer will be required to undergo a debriefing with a department-provided psychologist as soon as practical. The purpose of this debriefing will be to assist the officer in dealing with any emotional and/or psychological after-effects of the incident. The debriefing will not be related to any criminal or administrative investigation and will remain protected by the privileged physician/patient relationship. Where appropriate, critical incident stress debriefing services may also be made available on a voluntary basis to other personnel involved in the incident.


Officers are authorized to use force when it is reasonably necessary to end a badly injured animal’s suffering. Using force to destroy an animal is not considered a “use of force” for reporting and tracking purposes and officers are required to complete only an incident report. If officers are required to use force in order to defend themselves or another person against an immediate threat of significant physical injury from an animal, then all use of force procedures and processes from this general order apply.

  1. Before destroying an animal, the officer must notify their supervisor of the situation and their intentions.
  2. No weapon shall be fired to destroy any animal, wild or domestic, unless the weapon can be fired safely with respect to human life and other property.  Following destruction, the officer will be responsible for arranging the removal or other appropriate disposition of the animal prior to leaving the scene.
  3. Before destroying a badly injured domestic animal, the officer shall make reasonable efforts to notify the animal's owner and/or any appropriate agencies or authorities (Humane Society, nearby veterinary office, Animal Control, etc.) in order to involve more knowledgeable persons in the decision. If no suitable alternative is identified, the officer may, upon supervisory approval, proceed with the destruction of the animal.


  1. All officers of the Hillsborough Police department will receive training on and access to the Use of Force policy upon joining the Department. All personnel will be advised of any changes in the policy and additional training will be provided as necessary due to the nature of the changes.
  2. All officers of the Hillsborough Police Department shall train annually on responding to resistance and use of force topics to include:
    1. A review of the current policy, recent incidents and case law;
    2. A discussion about the responsibility inherent in the ability to use force;
    3. Conflict resolution, de-escalation and verbal judo concepts;
    4. Application of skills in scenario based training.
  3. In addition, individual squads will be required to conduct quarterly squad-level training to reinforce proper responses and good habits. Whenever possible, training will be based on recent events and real-world examples.


  1. Use of Force files will be maintained for a period of five (5) years from the date of the force incident.  After five years, Use of Force files will be purged unless it has become the subject of civil or criminal litigation.
  2. The Office of the Chief of Police will track all use of force incidents and conduct an annual analysis of Use of Force incidents to identify patterns or trends that may indicate training needs and/or policy modifications.