FAQs: Use of Force, Police Accountability, Officer Training, Community Outreach

The recent deaths of George Floyd and others at the hands of police officers have put focus on how police departments use force, how officers are held accountable, how they are trained, and what steps can be taken to make policing better for everyone in the community. We hear you. We are dedicated – and bound by policy, law and humanity – to treat every person equally and with respect. In our ongoing commitment to transparency, please find answers below to some of our most commonly asked questions (download/print instead):

Use of Force

Does your department allow officers to use chokehold techniques? 
NO, chokeholds are NOT permitted. Intentional strikes or pressure to the throat with the hands, feet, legs, elbows, knees, or any implement are strictly prohibited. 

Does your department require officers to intervene and stop excessive force used by other officers and report these incidents immediately to a supervisor?
Yes. A member has the duty to intervene to prevent or stop another member’s use of force if he or she knows or reasonably believes the use of force to be excessive, and to report this action to his or her supervisor. Failure to do so is a direct policy violation.

Does your department train and require de-escalation techniques?
Yes, de-escalation is taught in the recruit academy and in annual trainings for ALL officers. The goal is to verbally diffuse situations before there is ever a need to engage in physical contact or force. 

How do officers determine the appropriate use of force in any situation? 
Officers are permitted only to use the minimal level of force that is necessary to effect lawful purposes – no more, and for no other reason. Officers are required to constantly evaluate the situation to determine what, if any, level of force is needed and to stop immediately when the threat is over. This is taught in a Use of Force Continuum in the academy.

EVERY use-of-force is reviewed by multiple supervisors and commanders to ensure force was not misused or excessive. Uses of force that result in death or serious injury are turned over to the criminal investigations bureau and reviewed by the state’s attorney from an outside jurisdiction to ensure impartiality.

Does your department require exhausting all alternatives before using force, particularly deadly force?
Yes, officers are trained and expected to use verbal techniques first, and then if necessary, the minimal amount of force needed to maintain safety and only in direct response to the actions of another. Officers are taught to only use or escalate force as absolutely necessary to ensure safety, not to inflict harm, and stop IMMEDIATELY when the threat is over. 

Deadly force may ONLY be used when an officer’s life or the lives of others are in imminent danger. In 2019, officers discharged their firearms ZERO times in any use-of-force situation. 

Does your department require a warning before using a firearm?
Yes, officers are required to give a verbal warning prior to the use of deadly force except in articulable exigent circumstances, such as being fired upon. A verbal warning also is required before an officer deploys a TASER.

Does your department ban shooting at moving vehicles?
The discharge of firearms at or from motor vehicles, either stopped or in motion, is strictly prohibited unless necessary to protect the officer’s life or the life of another.

Accountability and Transparency

Is your department held to national and local standards?
The Howard County Police Department is one of only six percent of agencies in the U.S. accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) and was most recently re-accredited in 2018. The department met or exceeded nearly 400 standards and received an advanced meritorious accreditation. 

All officers are certified by the Maryland Police Training and Standards Commission (MPTSC). Every year since 2005, Howard County police academy leaders were named MPTSC Instructors of the Year. 

Who investigates complaints from residents or other officers? 
All complaints, including allegations of bias and inappropriate levels of force, are reviewed by the Internal Affairs Division (IAD), which reports directly to the Chief of Police.

What happens to an officer if he or she uses deadly force?
When an officer’s actions result in death or serious physical injury, he or she is placed into an administrative assignment pending the outcome of the investigation. The Criminal Investigations Bureau investigates the incident and the findings are sent to an outside state’s attorney’s office, for an independent determination if criminal charges against the officer are appropriate. The case is also reviewed by IAD to determine if the officer followed all required policies.

How do I file a complaint against an officer?
Complaints against officers may be filed in-person, over the phone, or by filling out a form. More information about the IAD process and filing a complaint is