U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Shall We Shoot Looters?

NCJ Number
Popular Government Dated: (September 1968) Pages: 5-8
R Clark
Date Published
4 pages
According to this 1968 address, sufficient police manpower properly deployed should prevent large-scale looting in the context of civil disorder. If this fails, looters should be arrested or controlled through the use of nondeadly weapons such as tear gas.
In the context of public reaction to civil disorders and looting, some people talk of shooting looters. This would in effect be summary capital punishment for looting inflicted on the most common looters, young black males. Such an approach to social control would not only violate the policies of most departments regarding the use of deadly force, but would fuel racial hatred and violence beyond current levels. According to the written policies of most police departments, deadly force should only be used when the person targeted is an immediate threat to human lives or possibly to prevent the escape of a felon after all means of arrest have failed. These policies are derived from a respect for human life. Law enforcement practice that shows a disregard for human life, even the lives of offenders, will alienate the police from the community they are commissioned to serve and create an atmosphere likely to produce an increase in violent confrontations between police and minority groups. A well-disciplined, well-trained, adequately manned police department with effective communcation with all segments of the public can prevent riots. That failing, it can meet and contain rioting and violence with superior force. Excessive force and inadequate force will exacerbate civil disorder.