Each police officer faces tremendous challenges during their professional career. Since 2010, I have found the greatest challenge before me as a police lieutenant is to help primarily black and Hispanic students understand a police officer’s role by bringing the street into the classroom.

I never thought my greatest challenges and rewards would be experienced teaching at Berkeley College in New York City. We come together with like minds when we openly discuss the facts and circumstances of major incidents.

Officer Darren Wilson’s greatest challenge is before him. In the past, I have explained that a police officer may be required to defend himself up to five times before he is completely exonerated of alleged wrongdoing. The officer may have to defend himself against:

  • Department charges
  • State criminal charges
  • State civil suit
  • Federal criminal charges
  • Federal Civil Rights Action

The use of force is not a joy ride to be enjoyed by a police officer. All levels of physical force and deadly physical force must be used properly pursuant to the guidelines of the police department in conjunction with Graham v. Connor. In this ruling, the Supreme Court made it clear that judgment about an officer’s conduct is based on objective reasonableness.

The Court stated that, “The reasonableness of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.” The objective test requires the court to envision a reasonable officer and ask this question: Based on the totality of the facts and circumstances, could such an officer believe that the force was reasonable? This was the task before the Ferguson Grand Jury, 9 white and 3 black jurors.

The Supreme Court also stated that, “The test for reasonableness under the Fourth Amendment is not capable of precise definition or mechanical application.” Allowance must be made for the fact that “…police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments – in circumstances that are tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving – about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation.”

The Graham decision found that an officer’s use of force should be considered based on the facts of each case. Officers are to weigh the seriousness of the crime, whether the suspect poses a threat to the safety of police or others and whether the suspect is trying to resist arrest.

The finding of the Ferguson Grand Jury followed the guidelines of Graham v Connor based on the totality of the circumstances that Officer Darren Wilson was facing upon confronting Michael Brown.

I have brought Columbine into the classroom, as well as Sandy Hook, Trayvon Martin, Stop and Frisk, Eric Garner, ISIS, and now as the riots are ongoing in Ferguson, today I will bring Ferguson into the classroom. I look forward interacting with my class to experience and hope that as a class we can do as well tomorrow as the Ferguson Grand Jury.

To learn more:


Graham v. Connor 490 U.S. 386 (1989)

Jim Gaffney, MPA is Law Enforcement Today’s risk management /police administration contributor. He has served with a metro-New York police department for over 30 years in varying capacities, culminating with Executive Officer and PIO. He is a member of (ILEETA), (IACP), and the nationally recognized FBI- LEEDA. Jim is a Certified Force Science Analyst. He mentors law enforcement’s next generation as an adjunct criminal justice professor in the New York City area. Jim brings the street into the classroom to prepare students today for their roles as police officers tomorrow. He is CEO of Bright Line Consulting and can be reached via www.brightlinepoliceconsulting.com