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Book Review

Scaling Force: Dynamic Decision-Making Under Threat of Violence

ScaleForceBy Rory Miller and Lawrence A. Kane
ISBN-13: 978-1-59439-250-4
YMAA Publication Center
Retail price: $18.95
312 pages, illustrated, softbound

Reviewed by Gila Hayes

I have been waiting for Miller and Kane’s collaborative effort, Scaling Force, for over a year. I started reading it the day it arrived, and recognizing the importance of the material, spent the following week studying it in detail. I can think of no one more qualified to write on the topic of decisions bearing on use of physical force. Though it is enjoyable reading, the material is complex and the authors’ coverage of it is quite detailed.

Most recognize the ethical mandate to understand use of force law in the context of firearms, but that same responsibility is rarely taught with hand-to-hand techniques. Maybe people think, “Using a gun might get you thrown in jail, but how much harm can you do with empty hands?” This thinking ignores how litigious Americans are, laws prohibiting unlawfully restraining another citizen, and the difficult but necessary task of selecting the justifiable degree of force for the threat that you face. As the law enforcement professional writing the foreword for Scaling Force asserts, “Reacting too small can get you hurt. Acting too harsh may land you in court.”

How to make the distinction? The traditional force continuum helps but with the courts and law enforcement agencies eschewing force continuums, use of force decisions are now judged against “the calculus of reasonableness,” as defined in Graham v. Connor, which acknowledged that police have to make decisions quickly and with minimal facts, the authors explain. Citizens using force in self defense face similar legal pitfalls and also answer to the reasonableness standard.

With this introduction, Scaling Force sets out to define the justifiable application of various degrees of force, in a nearly 300-page book that is full of illustrative vignettes.

The authors begin by identifying six levels of force and their appropriate application. The rationale is illustrated by a case in which several Good Samaritans in Manhattan tried to stop a madman with a knife, but all were injured until police shot the offender. In one brief story, the authors clarify the necessity of applying the appropriate force option. The Good Samaritans who tried to help were ineffective and they got hurt because their force options were too low for a knife attack. The authors explain, “A scale of force options gives you a set of tools for managing violence…Choosing the right level of force lets you control a bad situation in an appropriate and effective way, increases your chances of surviving without serious injury while simultaneously reducing the likelihood of adverse consequences from overreacting or under-reacting, such as jail time, debilitating injury or death.”

The key is in understanding the circumstances to which various force options are suited, so the authors embark on an explanation of types of threats. First, they separate violence into two categories: social and predatory. The first is undertaken publicly to establish status, while the latter tends toward one-on-one victimization, as practiced covertly by a mugger, serial killer or rapist. Do not confuse the two, the authors warn since, “The very factors that might de-escalate a social situation will almost certainly trigger a predatory attack if they make you appear weak.” Within both social violence and predatory violence are subsets of various motivations, the authors describe. While some of this is a review of Miller’s earlier books, it sets the context for new material in Scaling Force.

Kane and Miller write that recognition and avoidance can stop the majority of the dangers lying in wait for private citizens. Failing to read signs of impending violence costs much-needed reaction time.