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SJPD’s new firearm policy: Held at gunpoint

Updated: Nov 9, 2023

By Vira Patil Nov. 9, 2023


As of Sept. 20, the San Jose Police Department (SJPD) recognizes pointing a gun as a “use of force” in its “Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms.” The “use of force” in the police department is defined as an action required by the police department in order to force compliance by an unwilling citizen, as stated by the National Institute of Justice. Previously, only actions that involved physical restraint such as the use of tasers, firearms and blunt force objects like batons were considered forceful actions toward the offender—such actions can only be used when the safety of others is at risk.


Jude Tantawy art

When a police officer points a gun at a person, the situation can quickly escalate. Such escalations resulted in the SJPD’s internal affairs unit making complaints against officers who pointed guns at potential offenders as a procedural issue, as stated by San Jose Spotlight. This can be seen as an infringement on a person’s Fourth Amendment rights, which provide American citizens with the right to be free from excessive force by law enforcement officials. The new policy of categorizing pointing a gun as a “use of force” allows for a sense of transparency between the department, its officers and the offender.


Additionally, this policy provides accountability and documentation covering the actions of both parties, not just the police officer. Officers are required to cite instances of pointing a gun as a “use of force” in their reports, keeping them accountable. They must also detail the actions undertaken by the offender which warranted the degree of force used by the officer.

“This policy provides accountability for our actions in the field while still allowing us to point guns as long as there is probable cause to do so. It will not change anything in my daily work, only call for more documentation on the actions of the police in certain situations,” Tim Harden, the school’s on-campus officer, said.

Prior to the change by internal affairs, only unjustly pointed firearms were classifying as a “use of force” in the SJPD. Actions that qualify as justly pointing a firearm include a threat to a person’s sense of safety and when an enforcer gives an impression of intent to harm another. However, pointing firearms, choking or strangling civilians are categorized as lethal force, and are only utilized when absolutely necessary and justifiable in terms of the new policy, which includes if the officer has reason to believe that the offender is an imminent danger to other civilians. When used unnecessarily, these actions are categorized as “excessive force,” when more force is used than the situation warrants. Lethal force, on the other hand, is force that can have lethal consequences for the offender. Officers using excessive force can be convicted of tort of battery, negligence or violation of Civil Code Section 52.1, therefore resulting in criminal penalties.


San Jose civilians consider this new policy a step toward safer interactions with police officers. The International Police Association explained that community members agree that experiencing use of force can be traumatic. The mental effect of such an encounter can last for years because it is frightening for its recipient and suggests deadly force will be used.


According to the American Psychological Association, being held at gunpoint has serious psychological ramifications. Shock, anxiety, guilt and depression are common initial effects when someone is threatened with a firearm, but these can later lead to severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Experiencing gun violence can also cause substance abuse, self harm and major depressive disorders. Aside from the initial effects of anxiety and depression, the long-term effects of being held at gunpoint by an officer can even suicidal ideation.

“A gun is more of a threat than it is a use of force. However, nobody should point guns at anybody because accidents happen and somebody could get hurt or worse. I would consider a “use of force” to be if you are complying with the officer’s requests but they still decide to be rough with you or harm you in any capacity,” Junior Jenna Matar said.

By categorizing pointing a gun as a “use of force,” SJPD aims to foster an increase in both responsibility and accountability for its officers. This will help the police effectively maintain public order and ensure the safety of the citizens by enforcing laws while preventing criminal activities.

 

About the contributors


Vira Patil

staff writer


Vira Patil is a junior at Leland high school, and this is her first year as a staff writer on The Charger Account. During her free time, she enjoys to binge TV shows, spend time with her family, and play the piano.



Jude Tantawy

artist


Jude Tantawy is a senior at Leland High School and is an artist for The Charger Account. During her free time, she enjoys drawing & painting, cooking, baking, playing video games, and is always listening to music.



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