(Camden, NJ) – Today, the Camden County Police Department announced adoption of its innovative, revised use of force policy drafted with the help of the Policing Project at New York University School of Law.
The revised use of force policy goes beyond the U.S. Supreme Court’s minimal constitutional principles regarding use of force—that an officer may only use force that a reasonable officer would when facing similar circumstances—to clearly state that officers must do everything possible to respect and preserve the sanctity of all human life, avoid unnecessary uses of force, and minimize the force that is used, while still protecting themselves and the public.
“We have long trained our officers in de-escalation and force minimization, but we wanted a policy that reflected that training,” said Camden County Police Chief J. Scott Thomson. “I want to commend the Policing Project for its fine work here in assisting our department with shaping a progressive policy that enhances both public and officer safety.”
The policy is consistent with national best practices on use of force, including de-escalation and force mitigation training that CCPD officers currently receive, and the “PERF 30” principles developed by the Police Executive Research Forum. The policy was also vetted and revised with the ACLU of New Jersey.
In addition, the Camden County Police Department’s collective bargaining unit, representing rank and file officers and commanders, was given the opportunity to review the policy.
“FOP Lodge 218 was provided the opportunity to review the model use of force policy,” FOP 218 president, Rick Kunkel said. “Both vice-presidents and I feel that it is in line with the training provided to our officers and the Attorney General guidelines. The policy takes a commonsense approach to situations providing guidance for officers, while still leaving options open when the situation dictates appropriate use of force. Our agency has adopted a principle engrained in the preservation of life for both the officer and the offender and this policy matches that ethos.”
Unlike more traditional use of force policies, CCPD’s policy now revolves around six core principles, each of which has at its core the sanctity of all human life. The policies six core principles are:
CORE PRINCIPLE #1: Officers may use force only to accomplish specific law enforcement objectives.
CORE PRINCIPLE #2: Whenever feasible, officers should attempt to de-escalate confrontations with the goal of resolving encounters without force. Officers may only use force that is objectively reasonable, necessary, and as a last resort.
CORE PRINCPLE #3: Officers must use only the amount of force that is proportionate to the circumstances.
CORE PRINCIPLE #4: Deadly force is only authorized as a last resort and only in strict accordance with this directive.
CORE PRINCIPLE #5: Officers must promptly provide or request medical aid.
CORE PRINCIPLE #6: Employees have a duty to stop and report uses of force that violate any applicable law and/or this directive.
CCPD officers are already trained in de-escalation and force mitigation techniques, including exercising restraint, using verbal communication, and relying on positioning, distance, and cover to minimize uses of force. This revised policy now enshrines that training, allowing the Department to hold officers accountable if their actions do not meet CCPD standards.
“A robust use of force policy must do more than explain when and how much force officers can use: it must make clear that officers are accountable to ensure their fellow officers are following the rules,” said Policing Project Executive Director Farhang Heydari. “This policy takes a very strong stance on officers’ obligation to intervene in, and report, unlawful uses of force by any other officers, and to provide prompt medical attention whenever necessary or requested.”
Chief Thomson serves as co-chair of the Policing Project Advisory Board, along with Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights President & CEO Vanita Gupta. The Policing Project has previously partnered with CCPD to conduct community engagement around CCPD’s body-worn camera policy and to run a youth-officer engagement program at local schools in Camden.
The Policing Project at New York University School of Law is a non-profit organization that partners with communities and police to promote public safety through transparency, equity and democratic engagement.