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Use of Deadly Force by Law Enforcement

The use of deadly force by police officers is one that causes heated debate across the country. Officer involved shootings may result in public outrage, scandal for the officer and the police department, and intense feelings of guilt or depression on the part of the police officer involved following the shooting. While most individuals understand that the use of deadly force is sometimes necessary, not every police officer involved shooting is deemed as justified by the courts or the public. Use of Deadly Force by Law EnforcementTo date there is a lack of consensus on why unjustified shootings occur although studies indicate that a lack of proper training and inconsistencies in policies from one department to the next contribute to the use of deadly force when other options are available.

The use of deadly force by police officers provokes heated debate in legal, law enforcement, political, and social circles. The main argument is not over whether deadly force should be used, but rather, when and under what circumstances it should be used. The right of police officers to use deadly force was confirmed in the early 1980s when the United States Civil Rights Commission released a report, which stated:

“Police officers…perform their duties under hazardous conditions and with the vigilant public eye upon them. They are permitted only a margin of error in judgment under conditions that impose high degrees of physical and mental stress. Their general responsibility to preserve peace and enforce the law carries with it the power to arrest and to use force – even deadly force”. The question most debated is not whether deadly force is warranted but under what circumstances it should be used.

Deadly force is defined by the Minnesota study of deadly force as “force that an actor uses with the purpose of causing, or that the actor should reasonably know creates a substantial risk of causing, death or great bodily harm” . This definition includes discharging a weapon in the direction of a vehicle or directly at an individual. Moreover, it includes “bodily injury that creates a high probability of death or causes serious permanent disfigurement” . Although most deadly force incidents involve the use of a weapon, the above definition makes it clear that any act that threatens another person’s life, such as a strangle hold, can be considered as deadly force.

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