Use of force

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The use of force refers to the threat or use of violence or other physical coercion to compel another person's behavior. Force is used both in relations between governments (e.g., war), in relations between governments and individuals (e.g., law enforcement, martial law), or in relations between individuals (e.g., self defense or robbery).

"As long as some members of society do not comply with law and resist the police, force will remain an inevitable part of policing," observe Jerome H. Skolnick and James J. Fyfe in their book, Above the Law: Police and the Excessive Use of Force. "Cops, especially, understand that. Indeed, anybody who fails to understand the centrality of force to police work has no business in a police uniform."[1]

Numerous state and federal cases have confirmed, however, that the use of deadly force by a citizen in resisting an unlawful arrest by a law enforcement officer is justified. The best known Supreme Court case on this topic was John Bad Elk v. U.S

As a basic principle of human rights, however, the use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials should be commensurate with due respect for human rights.[2]

Against Criminals

A 1999 joint report from the National Institute of Justice and the Bureau of Justice Statistics "presents findings on the extent and nature of police use of force, discusses the difficulties in establishing measurement guidelines, illuminates circumstances under which force is applied, and provides a general framework for future research on excessive displays of force."

The foreword to the report states that "Law enforcement officers are authorized to use force in specified circumstances, are trained in the use of force, and typically face numerous circumstances during their careers when use of force is appropriate--for example, in making some arrests, restraining unruly combatants, or controlling a disruptive demonstration." The paragraph continues to say, however, "When the level of force exceeds the level considered justifiable under the circumstances ... the activities of the police come under public scrutiny."

Against Terrorists

Subsequent to the events of September 11, 2001, Congress authorized the use of the United States Armed Forces against those responsible for the recent attacks against the United States in House Joint Resolution 64 on September 14. Congress resolved that "such acts render it both necessary and appropriate that the United States exercise its rights to self-defense and to protect United States citizens both at home and abroad."

Against SARS

On April 4, 2003, President George Walker Bush signed Executive Order 13295: Revised List of Quarantinable Communicable Diseases that authorized "the apprehension, detention, or conditional release of individuals to prevent the introduction, transmission, or spread of suspected communicable diseases." Already specified in the Public Health Service Act are "Cholera; Diphtheria; infectious Tuberculosis; Plague; Smallpox; Yellow Fever; and Viral Hemorrhagic Fevers (Lassa, Marburg, Ebola, Crimean-Congo, South American, and others not yet isolated or named)." To this list, dating from 1983, the EO added "Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which is a disease associated with fever and signs and symptoms of pneumonia or other respiratory illness, is transmitted from person to person predominantly by the aerosolized or droplet route, and, if spread in the population, would have severe public health consequences."

For example, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) web site, the "Executive Order provides Health and Human Servcies with clear legal authority to detain or isolate the non-compliant passenger and prevent the passenger from infecting others. This authority would only be used if someone posed a threat to public health and refused to cooperate with a voluntary request."

On April 04, 2003, Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy G. Thompson issued a statement regarding the President's Executive Order on quarantinable diseases:

"The president signed the order after he received a detailed briefing on SARS from myself, Dr. Julie Gerberding of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
"By amending the list, we are simply taking the pragmatic step of readying all options as we continue to tackle this disease. This authority would only be used if someone posed a threat to public health and refused to cooperate with a voluntary request. We're working to be prepared for any eventuality."

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