Appropriate Force By: Steve Tarani


It was the famed Greek historian Herodotus that said, “Force has no place where there is need of skill.” However, when it comes to a violent physical altercation, most people would ask, “With what force should I respond?” Force should be the very last consideration.

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Three Strikes

The first consideration should be to assume responsibility for your personal safety and that of those with you. Standing firmly on this sound Protective Services mindset puts you in the driver’s seat from the start to managing an undesired event. Step one—be mentally prepared.

Second, and equally as important, is to not put yourself in a situation that would put yourself in a situation. If there’s no need to traipse through a high-threat environment, then why assume the risk? If you willingly place yourself in a known high-threat area which raises the probability of an event occurring, then that’s on you, as it’s completely preventable.

Last but certainly not least is applying good situational awareness. Most people think being situationally aware is to look left and then look right. Slapping your eyeballs on a person, object or scenario is better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, but mental engagement with your environment is essential to applying good situational awareness.

To be mentally present is to be situationally aware. Without mental engagement with your environment, you’re unable to assimilate incoming
information, assess that information and then process a solution to the tactical problem if there is one. Looking around with your eyes is one thing but seeing and processing relevant information is the definition of good situational awareness.

Failing a sound mindset, failing to not place yourself in a precarious position, and failing to apply good situational awareness are the three
strikes that will toss you out of the threat control game. These same three strikes will relegate you to the back of the action-reaction power curve posing an unnecessary disadvantage.

Instead of staying ahead of the power curve and being able to control the situation, and predict or even prevent the conditions that may place you in jeopardy, you end up falling further into a cascading series of detrimental events. Instead of you controlling the threat, the threat controls you.

Steve Tarani

Reactive Measures

The “A” answer to any violent physical altercation is avoidance. If you can do everything in your power to avoid a nasty situation, then this keeps you on the proactive measures side of the fence and away from needing to physically react. However, failing avoidance you are then subject to threat mitigation and/ or defense which fall under the “reactive measures” category.

Should conditions deteriorate so badly that they require your physical response to an active threat then you are relegated to a certain set of
physical reactive measures which must adhere to those rules and laws in place regulating appropriate use of force.

To know your legal boundaries, it is strongly recommended that you check your state and local laws referencing the appropriate use of force. However, there are a few useful navigation tips to help keep you between the white and yellow lines of reasonable force application.

The first, and paramount to using force, is to get off the physical “X” and to safety. Protection professionals such as military, law enforcement, and protective agents are the highest-trained personnel in threat avoidance, mitigation, and defense in personal combat, and especially in quick reactionary response to immediately move off the ‘X’.

If there ever was a magic bullet to ensure avoidance, mitigation, and defense against an active threat it would be summed up in one objective—move off the ‘X’ while sustaining the lowest scale of personal injury.

What is meant by getting off the “X”? The term was derived from a time in history when they first started making movies. When filming, an actor stood on two pieces of rigger’s tape placed on the floor in the shape of an “X” because that’s the exact spot where the lights, camera, and (later) sound were focused.

The same concept applies to a physical altercation—the bad guys, their guns, flame throwers, knives, and bullets are all focused on that same “X.” In any physical attack, when you move off the “X” you are immediately getting yourself away from someplace bad for your health and well-being and moving to a safer place.

Maintaining little or no injuries as possible is crucial, so combining the two objectives—move of the “X” with the lowest scale of injury – provides you with the very best possible tactical decision.

The overriding survival concept here is to either exit or equalize. Barring movement off the “X” (exit) and given no other choice but to equalize—the only remaining option is to stand your ground and fight. Should you choose to stand your ground and fight, then you must consider applying appropriate force.

Force Application Ladder

At the very bottom rung of applying appropriate force (and it’s not really a “force” per se) might be issuing verbal de-escalation, commands, or cooperative verbal controls which are clear, concise, and understandable verbal direction. In some cases, it might serve best to include a
consequence to the verbal direction so that the bad guy(s) understand what will happen if they do not comply with your direction. The verbal command and the consequence must be legal and not considered excessive force according to your state and local laws.

Failing avoidance and verbal judo, should they continue their assault upon you or those with you, the next run up on the force application ladder would be to deploy non-lethal force such as empty-hand submission techniques, martial arts, defensive tactics, and the like—a level of force that has a low probability of causing soft connective tissue damage or bone fractures. Such soft control techniques would include joint manipulation techniques, applying pressure to pressure points, takedowns, and submissions.

Steve Tarani

The next rung up would be what is considered hard control techniques which are perceived as more aggressive response techniques—the
amount of force that has a probability of causing soft connective tissue damage or bone fractures or irritation of the skin, eyes, and mucus

This would include swift kicks, punches, knees, and the use of aerosol sprays such as oleoresin capsicum (OC) pepper spray, bear spray, and the like, all of which are considered non-lethal force.

Failing any single or combination of the above, the next level up is utilizing a non-ballistic weapon such as a baton, taser, stun gun, and the like which can produce an amount of force that would have a high probability of causing soft connective tissue damage or bone fractures.

Such intermediate weapon techniques may impact muscles, arms, and legs. Intentionally using an intermediate weapon on the head, neck, groin, kneecaps, or spine could be classified as deadly or lethal force which is the last rung on the force application ladder.

The last and final remaining rung is use of lethal force, sometimes referred to as “deadly force” which is a force with a high probability of causing death or serious bodily injury. Serious bodily injury includes unconsciousness, protracted or obvious physical disfigurement, or protracted loss of or impairment to the function of a bodily member, organ, or mental faculty. A firearm is the most widely recognized lethal weapon, however, an automobile, iron skillet, or other weapons of opportunity would also be considered capable of lethal force.

Keep in mind that the skill and training of your opponent(s) can also be a determining factor. Often overlooked in personal combat is personal fighting skill. A skilled shooter, a trained knife fighter, or an MMA/ UFC champion can significantly raise your injury potential. Conversely, should you find yourself in a harmless scuffle and you deploy your firearm against some guy pointing his finger at you, then you would be in violation of appropriate force laws and subject to significant criminal and civil penalty.

The “A” answer is avoidance, don’t be there in the first place, and use good situational awareness. Failing these, de-escalation/ verbal judo is your next best bet. Failing exit or de-escalation, your only remaining option may be to equalize the situation by appropriate application of force.