Denver Police Instructed to use “Pain Compliance” on Passive Individuals

When we received the Denver Police Department (DPD) Crowd Control Manual through an open records request, many of the most interesting sections were redacted.

After receiving an unredacted copy, we were able to understand many of the standard “crowd control” practices used by police during demonstrations.

One section that stands out is the use of “pain compliance”:


The “Crowd Management Matrix” in DPD’s Crowd Control Manual explicitly authorizes the use of “pain compliance techniques” on individuals engaged in “passive resistance.” Although such an individual, such as someone who goes limp when arrested doing civil disobedience, poses no threat to the officer, the officer is permitted to use force to cause pain to that individual.

Pain compliance techniques used by the Denver Police Department are known to involve the use of pressure points. It is common for people arrested at protests in Denver to report that while being arrested, officers pulled and twisted their wrists and fingers in very painful ways both as they are being handcuffed, and after they have already been handcuffed.

One protester we spoke with described his experience when he was arrested at an action in 2013:

“After I went limp and was dragged across the sidewalk, the arresting officer started bending my wrist inward and whispering into my ear that he was going to break it and joked about how he had broken other people’s wrists before.”

Another protester who experienced similar treatment during a protest arrest in 2015, stated that they told the officer “you’re hurting me” and the officer replied “good.”

While, on paper, using pain compliance on a passive person is a matter of policy and “lawful use of force”, in practice, under the present rubric of “officer discretion” this can allow police to selectively inflict arbitrary pain, and sometimes injury, as retaliation against protesters.

Pain compliance is a matter of public controversy and is considered by many to be a form of torture as it deliberately causes intense, unbearable pain to a prone and generally helpless person, as explicitly authorized in this manual.

Pain compliance being used on “passive” individuals fits within the long-standing police strategy of “escalated force” in which any small defiance towards police authority (in this case going limp instead of willingly walking when placed under arrest) is interpreted as a justification for the officer to take the interaction ‘to the next level’ in terms of inflicting pain or using force on an individual or members of a crowd. Deliberately inflicting intense pain on a physically vulnerable person can become a mundane matter of increasing police efficiency.

The use of “pain compliance” bears a similarity to the “stress positions” that the US military uses to torture detainees. Like stress positions, pain compliance can be used as a torture tactic with plausible dependability, as it typically leaves no mark upon the victim’s body.

View the complete unredacted copy of Denver’s Crowd Control Manual here.

Releasing the Denver Police Crowd Control Manual is part of our ongoing investigation into the policing of social movements. Using open records requests and other methods, we are currently compiling reports documenting the Denver Police Department.

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