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Wilmington Police Department talks use-of-force policies

Lt. Matt Fox in WPD's use of force simulator.
Rachel Keith
Lt. Matt Fox in WPD's use-of-force simulator.

Over the last few years, police departments around the country have come under increasing scrutiny for their use of force. Wilmington Police Chief Donny Williams said that in 2020 his department documented the use of force 155 times out of 155,000 calls for service.

Lieutenant Matt Fox said the use of force boils down to one question: “Is it objectively reasonable?”

“So what we train our officers in any use of force, whether it’s putting your hands on somebody, or full-on battling or shooting, is it needs to be objectively reasonable and it should be the least amount of force necessary,” said Fox.

He said when this happens the officer has to write a professional report, take photographs of the injuries, and they have to be specific about the citizen’s aggressive act -- and the officer’s response to it.

But Lieutenant Fox said when the officer makes the decision to use force, they rely on what’s going on at the time, what kind of environment they’re in, and what their abilities are.

“It’s easy for the untrained or maybe just the naive citizen to say, 'Well, just shoot him in the foot or tase him.' There’s a difference between what you can control and what you can’t control. A professional understands that he has no control at all over the final outcome of the situation. There are too many variables. A professional does know that he has complete control over his own performance,” said Fox.

Another issue officers deal with is the use of force against someone driving a car or truck. Fox said it’s strongly discouraged to shoot at a moving vehicle. But there are some instances, he said, when it would be justifiable, like if an officer had a clear shot to stop a person who’s driving their car deliberately into a crowd, as was the case in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017.

  • A link to WPD’s policies, which include ones on the use of force

Rachel is a graduate of UNCW's Master of Public Administration program, specializing in Urban and Regional Policy and Planning. She also received a Master of Education and two Bachelor of Arts degrees in Political Science and French Language & Literature from NC State University. She served as WHQR's News Fellow from 2017-2019. Contact her by email: rkeith@whqr.org or on Twitter @RachelKWHQR