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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Product Review: Force Decisions

Force Decisions: A Citizen's Guide
Rory Miller

Force Decisions may be the single most important thing Rory Miller has ever written.

Yes, I know I had a lot of good things to say about his other works  (Meditations on Violence and Facing Violence). I would even go so far as to say I think that most, if not all, students of self-defense and combatives should be familiar with those works. As valuable as they are, however, I would argue that Force Decisions is substantively more important because it addresses questions and concepts that go far beyond the realm of self-defense.

Force Decisions is not about self-defense or martial arts; it is about understanding how, when, and most importantly, WHY law enforcement officers use force (which covers everything from pain compliance tactics to firearms). And while I know plenty of people with a minimal to non-existent interest in self-defense, I've never met a single person who didn't feel qualified to venture some kind of opinion on any reported use of force by the police. Any time there is a highly publicized use of force, from an arrest to a shooting, everyone and their mother rushes to share their opinions about the actions of the officer involved. Some support them, some condemn them, but very often, most have no idea about the actual issues involved. They make their judgments based not on information, but on some vague sense of morality, either one that says that the cops are generally right, or one that says they are generally wrong.

Force Decisions offers a window into the process by which officers make the decision to use force, and how much force they decide to use. Miller packs a great deal of information into this compact volume, which clocks in at a bit under 200 pages. Larger legal concepts, such as use of force policy, defining a threat, and what constitutes excessive vs. unnecessary force, are all broken down in clear and easily digestible discussions. Miller also covers the process by which an officer's decisions are examined, and works to deliver some insights into how law enforcement officers see the world. Throughout the book, Miller offers a number of details or illustrative stories to help support his ideas. Not all of the stories are his, though it's occasionally unclear who is telling the story. That is a minor gripe, but a gripe nonetheless. He also makes the time to explain how this knowledge should affect you as a citizen, particularly if you are a citizen who is confronted by an officer in the line of duty. While much of his advice could be boiled down to "don't be an idiot", the insight into what might be running through the cop's mind the next time you get pulled over for speeding is an invaluable one.

Regardless of how you feel about the police, and their use of force as a tool, this book is valuable. If you consider yourself an informed citizen, and want to be able to speak intelligently about controversies like the police responses to the Occupy movement, get this book. It will open up a lot of valuable insights.

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