Police Use of Force – UN/Reasonable?

Police can use ‘reasonable force’ when they are arresting a person suspected of a crime.

Reasonable force has no exhaustive legal definition and what will be considered reasonable force in NSW all depends on the circumstances.

When considering how reasonable the police use of force has been, the Courts take an objective approach to the issue. Considering all the facts, the situation as it was occurring and any knowledge the police had about the suspect, such as their violent tendencies, the presence of weapons or if there are possible victims in immediate danger.

However, even with the non-exhaustive definition some techniques are approved and used often by police.

One such approved method is the ‘Leg Sweep’. 

  • The Leg Sweep –is the action by police of applying a swift kick with force to the base of a person’s legs near their angles. This action then results in person’s legs buckling underneath them. Allowing police to put them ‘to the ground’.

But again, even though an approved method just when and how police use this method will still need to be considered in all the circumstances of whether it was reasonable at the time.

For instance, recently the approved Leg Sweep has come under fire for being an unreasonableness use of force. 

When it was used on a 16-year-old indigenous youth, who was not resisting arrest and not giving police any cause to use the so called approved method.

See attached link for further details https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-06-03/outrage-continues-over-indigenous-sydney-teen-arrest/12313416

After the footage emerged even the Police Commissioner of NSW commented that the use of the approved Leg Sweep was “absolutely” concerning in this instance.

Proving that reasonable force even with approved methods still depends on the circumstances and facts of the situation.

Another method of force that can be deemed reasonable is grabbing the arms of a suspect and pulling to the back to subdue the person.

  • Grabbing one arm and pulling back and slightly up – the action is to subdue a person as the force of one arm being pulled to the back and up causes pain/discomfort and generally a person will comply with directions to have their arm released and placed in handcuffs.

Other types of reasonable force as stated will all depend on a myriad of factors and the circumstances of the arrest and the suspect. 

Even weapons can be reasonable force depending on whether a suspect is armed, and/or police or the public are considered in danger.

Police are trained in the following techniques when arresting a person: –

  • Handcuffing; 
  • Baton strike;
  • Check drill;
  • Leg Sweeps;
  • Take downs;
  • Use of Taser; and
  • Use of Firearms.

However, there are limits and the choke hold is one such limit and use of unreasonable force.

  • The Choke hold – police cannot place a person in a choke hold. Choke holds are an obvious danger in that it can restrict the airways and cause a person to suffer lack of oxygen to the brain resulting in brain damage or death.

What about applying pressure and kneeling on a person?

We have recently seen the tragic consequences of police kneeling on people’s back or chest to make an arrest.

The tragic death of Mr George Floyd in the US and the Black Lives Matter protests highlighted the real dangers of this kind of application of force by police.

However, and unfortunately whether it is excessive use of force will ultimately depend on the circumstances and the facts.

If you or someone you know has been charged with a criminal offence contact Rep-Revive Criminal & Employment Lawyers ® for a free initial consultation.


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