The Law Enforcement Guide to Reducing Use of Force & Preventing Officer Misconduct

Your state’s mandatory standards for training and programs to prevent misconduct might not be enough for today’s policing needs. That means it’s up to your agency to go beyond “checking the boxes” to achieve maximum effectiveness and preparation.

Keys to Prevention:

The Value of Prevention

Formal efforts to prevent excessive use of force and other officer misconduct are expensive. But the liabilities for failing to address these problems are even more costly—in dollars, morale, and reputation.

  • Increasingly, agencies that can’t demonstrate that they prevent and address misconduct are on the hook for damages when misconduct occurs.
  • Currently, taxpayers bear the cost of hundreds of millions of dollars each year, paid out by law enforcement agencies in judgments and settlements.
  • Officers may interpret their agency’s failure to adopt formal prevention measures as a sign that misconduct isn’t taken seriously by leadership.
  • Members of the public may see a judgment against an agency as evidence that police don’t deserve respect or support.
  • Hit with expensive judgments, some communities have had to raise taxes to cover the costs.
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You can’t control all the factors involved in the decision to use force or engage in misconduct.

  • The job of policing will always be stressful and potentially dangerous. New challenges are constantly evolving in 21st-century police work.
  • When reductions in funding for law enforcement result in layoffs or hiring freezes, fewer officers are asked to do more, which may result in overwork and burnout.
  • News events (even in communities far away from yours) can heighten tensions locally— among citizens, or even between citizens and police.


You can control what your agency does to keep officer misconduct from happening in the first place.

Police Misconduct National Registry


“Hiring reform is one of the most critical areas for policing leaders to address.” —Ari Vidali, founder and CEO, Envisage Technologies

The most critical time for prevention is during the hiring process

  • The world we police has changed, which means the job of policing has changed. But at many agencies, hiring is still being done the old way. This problem has potentially serious effects on your agency’s ability to shield itself from legal liability and negative public perceptions.
  • Conduct more thorough background checks when screening candidates. Far too few agencies use integrated tools to document the termination of officers, and even participation in the NDI is not as widespread as it should be. Avoid a costly lawsuit by taking extra steps now to gather background information on candidates.
  • Hire with prevention outcomes in mind. Every hiring decision should be measured against how a candidate would contribute to your agency’s efforts to prevent misconduct.
  • Hire for personality traits and character; train for the on-the-job skills. Personality and character are usually more innate and fixed than other factors in a candidate’s ability to perform on the job, so screen for candidates who are already aligned with your agency’s mission and values before investing in new officers.
  • Never settle for unqualified candidates. Don’t take shortcuts or cut corners in hiring the best candidates. And go in-depth with interviews and psychological screenings, involving professionals, FTOs, and community members as needed. These person-to-person interactions can offer insights that tools like predictive modeling can’t.
  • Hire for leadership ability. Peer influence and accountability among officers are some of the most powerful factors in guarding against misconduct. Look for candidates who show potential for assuming positive leadership roles at your agency.
  • Paint a realistic picture of the job, and screen out candidates with unrealistic expectations. Candidates who bring a “TV cop” mentality to an interview need to be briefed on what the job actually entails and the conduct you expect from all officers.
  • Diversity and inclusivity are critical in hiring. Not only do more diversely staffed agencies better reflect the communities they serve, but a more diverse and inclusive workplace may also be less likely to tolerate misconduct based on racial, gender, or class prejudices.
  • Consider staffing your department with some non-police professionals. Calls for defunding the police are often based on the observation that many calls would be better handled by mental health professionals or other non-police entities. Additionally, dispatching non-police staff on such calls frees up officers to respond to criminal matters requiring their expertise.
  • Treat hiring as an ongoing process that lasts throughout an officer’s career. Hiring isn’t a “one and done” process that gets an officer in the door. Protect your investment in your officers by continuing to “hire” them through regular performance assessments, offering guidance and opportunities for training and advancement. Performance management and early intervention systems can make this effort much easier.
  • Use current evaluations of past hires to plan future hiring practices. Learning from mistakes and failures is a valuable (if unfortunate) benefit of hindsight. Track the progress of your hires over time, watching for opportunities to improve your recruiting and hiring going forward.

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Officer conduct and ethics aren’t “add-on” concepts separate from the job. They’re processes central to the role of 21st-century policing.

  • Every aspect of training must be grounded in proper conduct and ethics. This throughline should be thoroughly woven into an officer’s preparation for policing, from firearms to traffic control to computer skills.
  • Adopt a data-driven, behavioral science–oriented strategy for training. Assuming that officers will somehow “put the pieces together” in the absence of quality training is a potentially expensive (and even deadly) misstep. Design training that draws upon the high standards and expert opinions found in reputable research.
  • Coping and de-escalation strategies use research into the mental and physiological responses to stress in order to provide officers with techniques that can make their in-the-moment decisions safer and more rational.
  • Peer intervention is a proven, effective method for defusing potentially dangerous situations.
  • A mix of classroom-style and clinical-style training is optimal. Sit-down sessions that educate officers on prevention have their place, but experts recommend more hands-on training that puts officers in the role of active learners. With the help of a qualified instructor, walking through various live scenarios offers practical, in-depth prevention training that a classroom can’t.
  • Make training required, ongoing, and measurable. Just as a coach would never consider limiting team practices to the first few weeks of the season for whoever felt like showing up, law enforcement agencies should establish clear standards for training, communicate expectations, and hold all officers accountable for participating. Tracking their progress through a training management system (TMS) ensures that your officers are regularly trained in prevention—and can shield your agency from liability if misconduct does occur.
  • Understand officer conduct (good and bad) as the product of decision-making. By focusing on managing the factors that can influence officers’ decision-making on the job, trainers can frame conduct as a moment-by-moment process within an officer’s control, as well as a basic responsibility of policing.
  • Interpersonal communication is the number-one skill in officer safety. Although some situations don’t afford an officer the luxury of a resolution through communication alone, the majority of them do. In fact, it’s believed that the better officers are at high-frequency, low-risk interactions, the better they’ll be at the low-frequency, high-risk interactions that threaten their safety. Adding basic interpersonal skills to an officer’s toolbox can boost their confidence, improve their relations within the community, and prevent the escalation of conflict.
  • Develop leadership skills through training. Prevention-focused agencies rely heavily on the power of peer leadership and accountability to uphold standards of conduct. By building leadership skills into officer training, you’re cultivating your best current and future leaders.
  • Include training in the diversity found across a community. Understanding the makeup of the community your agency serves is the first step in adequately serving its members.
  • Support efforts to lengthen the time required in academies. Proper training of officers takes time, but many states don’t require enough of it. Take advantage of opportunities to communicate to agency and state leadership, as well as state legislators, the value that extended academy time adds to the quality of your officers’ training.

Track individual training records from hiring through separation or retirement.

Organizational Culture

Remember: What we as leaders allow to happen, we choose to happen.

Along with leadership and education, your agency’s culture—your shared norms, values, assumptions, and attitudes—has a major influence on behavior.

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Changing the culture at your agency

  • Empathize with the natural resistance to change. We’re creatures of habit; fear about what will happen after a change is implemented is normal. Let your officers know that you understand their apprehension and will work through changes with them.
  • Don’t hide from the bad parts of policing’s past and present. Showing your officers that you’re willing to be honest about the profession—the good and the bad—communicates that you have the integrity and courage to lead the way to change.
  • Model what you want to see in your agency. Nothing will undermine your words faster than failing to live by them yourself.
  • Don’t wait for an incident to occur before intervening. Be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to officer misconduct. When properly used, early intervention systems can identify officers who may need additional training or support. Just remember that such tools should be there to help, not punish.
  • Involve officers in identifying and addressing cultural issues. Most officers want the same thing you do: an agency free from misconduct. As your eyes and ears on the front line, they can be your greatest allies in identifying cultural areas that need improvement.
  • Understand the informal nature of culture, and strive to close the gap between formal and informal culture. Words and behavior at the water cooler can reveal just as much about an agency’s culture as those at roll call—maybe more. Do your best to emphasize that your conduct expectations apply at all times.
  • Recognize the power of language in culture. Calling backpacks “war bags” or sex workers “lot lizards” may seem like harmless examples of in-group slang, but the words we use send powerful messages about our values and norms.
  • Resist and discourage intellectual laziness. Policing is often perceived as being about action, not theory or analysis. Reject mediocrity in your agency by providing officers with opportunities to master their skills through formal learning. The education-related issue most often cited by leadership as a problem? Poorly written reports by officers.
  • Promote learning about the history of your agency and community. Officers with a greater understanding of their role in the community will feel more invested in performing it effectively and honorably.
  • Emphasize the demands of 21st-century policing. The world is rapidly changing, and adapting to its evolving needs is critical. Increasing public demand for accountability and transparency makes this ability especially urgent.
  • Create new incentives and awards geared toward desired outcomes. Don’t just focus on negative behaviors. Early intervention systems can also be used to flag officers who are consistently doing the right things. Publicly rewarding the values you want to promote reinforces their priority at your agency.
  • Focus on officer wellness. Like everyone else, law enforcement officers are human beings with material, emotional, and psychological needs. Doing what you can to address them can result in a better adjustment to stressful and dangerous situations.

Give consistent, transparent feedback with an early intervention system.


Robust systems can manage all the data your agency needs to track surrounding hiring, training, performance, and more.

  • The right tech solutions help prevent instances of misconduct. By ensuring better internal affairs case workflow, case records management, standardization across departments, and transparency, agencies can avoid hiring bad cops, identify areas that need improvement, and hold everyone accountable for their actions.
  • Technology can help your agency develop its own customized solutions. Training modules, testing, and performance reviews can all be tailored to your agency’s specific needs and priorities.
  • Tracking officers’ performance helps shield your agency from costly litigation. Documenting important information related to your officers—from hiring through separation—establishes your agency’s commitment to preventing misconduct. In addition, funds that would have been lost to judgments and settlements can now be directed to better supporting your officers, including through prevention training.
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