COLUMNIST: Use of force by police is a complicated, ever-changing issue


Guest Columnist

I appreciate Mr. Heinzman’s column in last week’s paper. He raises a lot of valid questions about the use of force and how the police apply it. Questions about the use of force are natural by the public.

These questions start early in life for a lot of people. In fact, one of the most common questions and sometimes the toughest to answer is asked of me by preschool and elementary kids when I come to the schools to visit them. There is always one or two who point at my gun and ask, “What’s that?” Some of them know but want to ask to start the dialog. The second question is, “what do you use it for?”

The use of force is an ever-changing part of police work. From the training to the actual application, situations, new equipment, case law, statutes and department policies all play a part in how the police respond in a force situation. The use of force in police work is not as black and white as it would seem. It is not a rock, but more like clay, constantly being shaped, altered, changed and redefined by the influences that I mentioned earlier.

Each police department has its own response to an investigation when an officer uses force. Typically any use of force used in a situation has a special notation on a report for supervisory review and notification so that they are aware of it. Each department also has its own set of policies that govern their officers in tools, tactics, and response to force issues. Minnesota has a minimum mandatory requirement of training that each department must give their officers every year.

I agree with Mr. Heinzman that the public deserves to know the outcome of an investigation when force is used against someone. I also believe that people need to have an understanding of how the police are trained, not to judge until all the facts are in, withhold comment on a segment of video that television news or someone else has edited, and remember that every cop on the street is a human being and no matter how little or much training and experience they have, that factor will come into play at some time in their decision-making.

Our police department is currently offering a police citizens academy that is aimed in educating and answering a lot of these and other questions on topics such as use of force, police investigations, K-9 use, DWI, traffic enforcement, 911 and who answers the phone, narcotics investigations, and others. There is no obligation at the end of the class. It is only meant to educate and inform the public.

This class is starting on Thursday, Oct. 4, at 7 p.m. and will run for seven consecutive Thursday nights, ending on Nov. 15. The class is free and held at our police department. I encourage you to look into attending the class to better understand how the police department works. You can contact us at the West Hennepin Public Safety Department at 763-479-0500 or stop by our office and pick up some information at 1918 County Rd. 90 in Maple Plain.


Rick Denneson is a patrolman for the West Hennepin Public Safety Department, which serves Maple Plain and Independence.