The Force Continuum: Creating Your Own Reactionary Standards

People tend not to take others into consideration as much as those others would like. On the freeway you get upset because the person in front of you is driving slower than you’d like them to in the left-hand lane. At work you’re always flabbergasted as to how the customer can be yelling at you after you couldn’t process the return for the product they bought 6 months ago. The list goes on, especially online. Written text is the worst thing in the world for gauging inflection, tone, and quirky things like sarcasm or sorrow or elation. We are in a society of people that are increasingly upset at the car in front of us for not driving according to our rules of the road, and we are even quicker to fly wildly out of context of a situation and do things that - in retrospect - were probably not the best.

Police have to be trained on something called the Force Continuum. This continuum, according to the National Institute of Justice, is described as “[an] escalating series of actions an officer may take to resolve a situation. This continuum generally has many levels, and officers are instructed to respond with a level of force appropriate to the situation at hand, acknowledging that the officer may move from one part of the continuum to another in a matter of seconds.” This scale describes, in no uncertain terms and with great detail, how an officer of the law should respond to any given situation. Each policing agency typically instructs officers on their own method of enforcing the Force Continuum, but a basic outline can look like this:

  1. Officer Presence - basically the mere presence of the officer is used as a deterrent. No force is used and this is typically seen as the best and most effective method of resolving a situation. Think about it. When you’re cruising down the highway without your seatbelt on or going 90 in a 40mph zone, what one thing makes you instantly correct your illegal behaviors? The appearance of a police cruiser. In social situations, when two children are going at it on the playground, the appearance of a teacher is usually enough to stop the fighting long enough to run interference and resolve the situation. No words need to be said, even. Just the presence of an established authority figure.
  2. Verbalization - Non-physical force, in other words. Using words, dialogue, and engaging the offending parties in order to calm the situation down. Again, using words in this instance is meant to be a calming action. The officer is not instructed to yell at everyone unless the situation has escalated to that level. There are two parts to this: Calm, instructive, non-threatening commands such as “Hello. May I please see your identification,” to the person outside the liquor store at 2:00am who has been hanging out there for a bit too long. This can escalate to shorter, increased volume commands such as “Stop,” or “Don’t move.” Again, the officer is still using words alone, but never in a threatening manner.
    • The next few are sometimes switched, depending on the agency or departmental guides. I have been told in some situations that the proper procedure is Presence, Verbal, Chemical, Empty-Hand, Mechanical, Electric, Lethal. I have been told that Empty-Hand and Mechanical go before Chemical, and sometimes that electric goes before Mechanical. However, here is a description using Empty-Hand as the next option.
  3. Empty-Hand - The officer uses either grabs, holds, or joint locks to restrain an individual (soft technique) or, if necessary, progresses to what is known as the hard technique of controlled kicks, punches, etc. This is where the officer has to get physical in order to restrain someone. A situation where this is appropriate is to break up a fist-fight or to restrain a dangerous hysteric.
  4. Less-Lethal Methods - This is sometimes broken down into three groups: Mechanical, Chemical, and Electric. Mechanical meaning using restraints such as handcuffs. Chemical being something like pepper spray. Electric meaning a Taser (or CED Conducted Energy Device). The school of taught I studied said Chemical or Electric was preferred after Verbal for the safety of the officer. Keeping an offender at bay while still restraining or subduing them. Either way, you get the idea. These methods are for situations that merit a swift, effective response to a situation that has escalated thus.
  5. Lethal - When an officer is met with deadly force from an offender, they are instructed to use it as well.

Now, it is important to note that an officer is ALWAYS instructed to begin at Presence. Always. There is no exception. You do not go to a scene with your gun already drawn. However, as in the description above, you can quickly move from Presence to Lethal within seconds. If you get to a scene and realize that gunfire has broken out, you would be derelict in your duties if you tried to walk up and talk with the guy with the gun in his hand who is shooting on the crowd. You take him down for the safety of the bystanders and all involved. But, that is an extreme, and statistically rare, occurrence.

Statistics are important to note, because contrary to the beliefs of the media, police use force less than 1% of the time on their job. According to a study of law enforcement officers, for every 100 sworn officers there were 6.6 complaints. Out of those 6.6 complaints, 92% were unfounded and had insufficient evidence to support them. Ok…I’ll do the math for you. That means that for every 100 officers, .5% of them are reported to use excessive force. Forget what you see on television or in the movies. That is sensationalized. The truth is far less dramatic or drastic.

Remember when we talked about the disparity of race in the criminal justice system? Most folks believe the poor, young, black male commits the most crime. Remember who actually does? Upper-middle class, white, middle-age men. Them’s the facts, folks. Despite what you see on television, hear on the news, or read in the paper, numbers and facts don’t distort. However, one can easily use Confirmation Bias to bend and twist various studies to support a thesis, though that rarely holds up under peer-reviewed scrutiny.

So, let’s consider this for a moment. How is being a cop any different than being a person? You know…other than the propensity to get shot at more on a daily basis. It’s not. They’re people, too. This principle of the Force Continuum easily applies to our daily life, though - hopefully - without the chemical spray or gun-slinging. In fact, you can think of the first two items as having their own continuums.

Presence can be you just standing outside of your house while a child is picked on, letting the bully know they’re being seen. This can easily resolve the issue. You can make your presence known politically with a silent protest outside the capitol building. You can be present at shops and establishments that you feel add value to the community, and your lack of presence can be an equally powerful thing.

I’d really like to look at a Verbal Force Continuum, though. How often does someone say something you dislike, find rude, or otherwise wish had never come out of his or her mouth? How often do you bite back with just as rude or disdainful a comment? Or, possibly, how often do you take your comments to a level above theirs on the Force Continuum? This happens all the time. Someone makes a joke you find distasteful, and you proceed to verbally bash their comment, them, people they know, people that enjoyed the joke, and pretty much put them in a little corner of shame and guilt and leave them there to rot. You’ve become a verbal bully. You’ve used Excessive Verbal Force, and it is now you who are in the wrong.

The point of police officers learning the Force Continuum, being tested on its tenets and then further practicing it daily. The point of things like the police academy is to make sure that before officers are turned loose on the public, that they are fully aware of their actions and can remain calm and controlled when faced with less than agreeable situations. Remember how officers learn to be calming in their communication with the public, saying please, thank you, and addressing individuals by ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am’? That’s because the point of the Force Continuum is not to escalate the situation, but to deescalate an already tense situation.

If someone says something you disagree with, think is false, rude, or otherwise doesn’t jive with how you’d like it to be said, it is wise to consider your reaction on the Force Continuum. How much force is necessary? A lesson we all need to consider from time to time, myself included.

Let’s direct the discussion to magic and pagan practice. The question is often asked of who is to judge when is the right or proper time to do magic. When does an action merit the casting of spells, and, if it does, what kind of spell does it deserve? Does a glib comment made by a cracked out celebrity merit a binding? Does someone breaking into your house and threatening your family merit a blue candle to heal their inner hurt they must have that caused them to break into your house in the first place? No. At least, not according to the principle of the Force Continuum. You see, you are to meet the level of force being used by the other person and then attempt to decline the need for force.

I suppose my answer to folks that are curious about when it is time to take magical recourse for a situation is to examine their own Force Continuum. Let’s use a situation a lot of people face: a crappy boss. Your boss treats you poorly, verging on abusive. They devalue your contributions, they make crass statements you find offensive, and generally fly off the handle when things don’t go his way. Before you decide to hex him 7 ways from Sunday, examine the Force Continuum. (Don’t you just love saying that phrase?)

  1. Presence - Have you been present at your job? Not just showing up for work. A police officer stands with authority, makes a Presence (not presence), and generally gives off an air of responsibility and action. Have you been making sure your presence is positive and that your own actions reflect the desire to resolve conflict?
  2. Verbal - Have you spoken to your boss? Have you talked to someone in HR or written a letter stating how you feel the work environment has changed for the negative? Did you use calming, supportive, positive language to attempt a resolution? Or, rather, did you make snide comments behind your boss’ back, gripe about how much you hate this job, and all around stoop to their level. (Literally, in this case, stooping to their level of action on the continuum.)
  3. Non-Lethal Magic - Have you done the equivalent of the Chemical or Electric methods? Have you attempted to magically keep him away from you? Did you attempt to resolve the situation with keeping him at bay so you could work in peace and continue getting your steady paycheck?
  4. Restraint - Here is where the mundane and magical worlds begin to differ. You can choose to bind someone after attempting to keep him or her at bay. But, I have to wonder what is tying you to a job with someone making you want to bind him, or worse. Mundanely, one could transfer departments or simply - though simply is not an adequate term in this economy - quit the job. Your mental health and happiness is far more important than a job.
  5. “Lethal” Magic - If all else fails, and this isn’t a situation that can possibly be resolved with a mundane method, and you have honestly tried to calm the situation down, THEN, and only then, should you head for the back of your Book of Shadows and open the “7 Ways from Sunday” Hex.

This kind of continuum can, and should, be applied to our everyday lives. We are in a world of ever-increasing population that is growing exponentially. Right now, if some studies are to be believed, humanity is consuming several times more resources than our planet can continue to support. We are quickly tapping them out. The same goes for you. You only have so much energy to expend before you become sick, unhealthy, and drained. You should not be expending more energy or time on a situation than is absolutely required, and you should be using that energy to positively resolve whatever situation requires said expended energy. To do otherwise is to continue to pollute the social consciousness.

Eat, Pray, Love is one of my favorite books, and there is a scene in the novel - not the movie, sadly - where Liz and a friend are petitioning the universe to allow her a divorce. She says something to the effect of, If two people are locked in conflict, that brings the general mental and emotional health of the world down. However, if two people can resolve that conflict and find peace, doesn’t that bring the general health of the world up that much more?

Basically, choose your actions and words carefully. We are becoming excessively reactionary as a society. We are committing Excessive Use of Force upon one another with our words and deeds, when those actions were not on the same level you used. And, even if they were, your actions and your deeds and your words should be to calm a situation. To bring balance, to see the other side, to understand one another better. That is the aim and purpose of Right Action and Right Speech in Buddhist philosophy.

Create your own Force Continuum and then practice it. Gauge its effectiveness and adjust it over time. Keep tally of when you added to the general peace of the whole and when you reacted negatively. Try and train yourself, just like a police officer, to react with calm and restraint. Get that Excessive Use of Personal Force statistic for yourself down to 0.5% or less and be an Officer of Peace in the world.

Love and Lyte,

Fire Lyte


  1. I've been reading for a while, but not commenting, which was foolish, because you have lots of great stuff here. I'll try to be less of a slacker.

    I loved this post. If we all just took stock of our own behavior/reactions more often, few disputes would escalate beyond raised eyebrows. :O)

    Oh, and I am awarding your blog for its utter awesomeness. You can go here to get your goodies: :O)


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