Several years ago, I read an article called “Use of Force and High Intensity Tactical Police Flashlights: Policy Concerns.” Since then I have seen it re-printed in various other locations.
In the article, R. Paul McCauley, Ph.D., a criminology professor at a university in Pennsylvania, opines that:
- the use of high-intensity tactical police flashlights (HITPFs) is a use of force;
- the police use of these flashlights is largely ineffective as a use of force;
- when used, high-intensity flashlights may often cause an escalation in the use of force; and
- policies and training need to be developed to govern the use of illumination in police work.
I don’t know what background, if any, McCauley has in modern police work, but the use of illumination is not a use of force. The use of illumination may be considered concealment (as in “concealment vs. cover”). Concealment helps to hide the officer’s exact location from a suspect, but it cannot control the suspect, nor offer any barriers if the suspect was to charge at the officer, or begin firing a weapon at the officer.
In McCauley’s own words:
“…the light…obscures subjects’ ability to visually target, it seemingly does not apply any physical force or pain to gain control or compliance from these individuals.”
This would seem to indicate that McCauley understands that the use of light is merely tactical concealment, but in the very next sentence, he states that:
“Agency policy makers must decide…if light is controlling or painful to determine where HITPFs fall in the use-of-force continuum.”
So, McCauley moves from stating that light doesn’t apply any physical force or pain, to encouraging departments to determine if the light is “controlling” or “painful” so the light can be properly placed in the use-of-force continuum.
Let me be perfectly clear about my position and the opinion of every use of force expert I have ever talked to: the use of lighting is not a use of force. The use of lighting, when done correctly, can create concealment for the officer. If the officer is able to take advantage of the concealment, he or she may be able to gain control of the suspect(s) using lower levels of force, than if the officer did not have the tactical advantage of concealment.
Reading through the rest of the article, I began to understand McCauley’s motivation in writing the piece. See if you can pick it out.
McCauley states that using light as concealment may prevent suspects from recognizing police, and “…this situation is not only dangerous, but subject to legal scrutiny and possible civil litigation.” (emphasis added)
McCauley performed a non-reproducible, non-scientific “experiment” with 17 college students. McCauley had them walk toward him in a dark hallway, and he shined a flashlight in their eyes. McCauley reported that 14 of the students “extended to some degree” one or both of their arms. From this, McCauley extrapolates that when a police officer shines a light at a suspect, the suspect is likely to raise their arms, and the police officer will respond with a greater use of force. With this, McCauley states, “…the officer’s actions created the dangerous situation.”
McCauley then goes on to state “Agencies must clarify when and how to use HITPFs,” as police officers “…need policy guidance and training.”
A quick Google search on McCauley, located what I suspected: McCauley pedals himself as an expert witness, or hired gun if you prefer, for people looking to sue police departments.
Don’t believe me? Check out all of the entries in Google with his name, or just wander over to ALMExperts.com’s entry on McCauley. In it, McCauley states:
R. Paul McCauley has assisted plaintiff & defense attorneys in matters of police & security negligence, excessive use of force, pursuits, hiring, retention and assignment of officers.
Years as Expert: 28
Primary Area of Expertise: Security/Premises Liability
In McCauley’s resume at almexperts.com, the only police experience he lists is as a trainer for an unnamed Pennsylvania police department from 1966-1969 (during part of that time, he also lists that he was an assistant manager for Burns Security.)
Digging a little deeper, I found a more detailed resume for McCauley at jurispro.com. There, he lists the completion of a 12 week certificate for a detective’s course in Liverpool, England plus a variety of US college degrees in criminal justice administration and the like.
(Author’s note: If Mr. McCauley reads this, I strongly encourage you to remove the names and dates of birth of your family members from your publicly visible resume. Identity theft, you know. I’ve worked a bunch of those cases, and I’m sure you don’t want to be a victim.)
Additionally, he lists approximately four years of experience as a captain with the Highspire Borough Police Department in Pennsylvania. I don’t know how large Highspire was some 50 years ago, but the municipality lists the population as 2,399 residents in 2010. I doubt the city lent itself to be a solid base of learning for a beat cop, much less a captain. As someone who has worked in both large and small agencies, I can tell you that there is a difference.
My point is, McCauley seems to be operating entirely from the viewpoint of the armchair quarterback. Maybe he’s a nice guy, but he seems to lack any relevant experience in actual police work. Certainly nothing in the past four decades.
Having chased wanted felons through the projects in Atlanta, kicked in the door on drug houses in Florida and cleaned up after suicides, homicides and nearly every other kind of crime man has come up with – well, I have a more practical approach that has been backed up by experience and the courts. Frankly, as near as I can tell, McCauley crafted the entire article in such a way to set himself up as an expert in a new area of police litigation: the improper use of lighting.
While I expect such people to write such articles, I am sadly disappointed to report where this article was originally published: the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin.
I hope everyone critically evaluates the information they read from any source (mine included). Bad information can get you and the folks we are supposed to protect hurt.