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Deadly Dilemma: Shoot or Don't Shoot?

NCJ Number
FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin Volume: 77 Issue: 3 Dated: March 2008 Pages: 7-12
Shannon Bohrer M.B.A.; Harry A. Kern M.Ed.; Edward F. Davis M.S.
Date Published
March 2008
6 pages
This article discusses the dilemma a law enforcement officer faces in deciding to use deadly force.
This article examines officers’ lethal force responsibilities in the contexts of legal opinions, officer reluctance or unwillingness to shoot, departmental policies regarding use of deadly force, misperceived threats, career considerations, and recommendations. Every day law enforcement officers draw their firearms for the defense of the public, fellow officers, and themselves. In the majority of situations, the officers fired shots. Sometimes, however, the officers force shoot. Because officers possess the authority under certain circumstances to deprive individuals of their freedom by arresting them, they sometimes must use force, even deadly force, to obtain compliance. It is not the officer’s decision to use deadly force but the suspect’s actions that require it. According to the FBI's annual report entitled, “Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted,” police are assaulted about 60,000 times each year, with approximately 10,000 of these attacks involving weapons, of which 3,000 are firearms. In some of these incidents, officers had to shoot someone to save other lives, including their own. Law enforcement officers need realistic training that incorporates the choices they may have to make on the street. Training instructors must give officers the facts to take appropriate action. Use of force policies should be simple, easy-to-understand, and reinforce the practical exercises. Law enforcement organizations should develop their own policies and procedures for investigating officer involved shooting incidents. These policies should be critiqued, reviewed, and updated on a regular and timely basis. Outreach programs should encourage educational opportunities for the public, the press, citizen groups, and other organizations about law enforcement’s use of force. Endnotes