Police Use of Deadly Force Capstone Project

Excerpt from Capstone Project :

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Although the incidence of deadly force use has likely remained steady in the first five categories, Russell and Beigel emphasize that based on the increased attention being directed at the "stake-out and drugs" category, these rates are likely much higher today. What quickly emerges from these foregoing trends, though, is just how quickly even innocuous encounters such as stops for traffic offenses with ordinary citizens can escalate to the point where deadly force is required by police officers. It is reasonable to suggest that when citizens are directly involved in a violent encounter with a criminal, their views of deadly force will be vastly different from those citizens who merely read about the event in their newspapers or watch a brief account on television. People whose lives or whose families' lives are personally touched and saved by the intervention of police and their use of deadly force against criminals will undoubtedly have a highly favorable view of such use, but there will also be those who question the need because they were not there and worry that such deadly force might have been the result of overzealousness or that such deadly force may be directed against them by accident in the future. In this regard, Klinger (2004) adds that, "Our schizophrenic posture toward police shootings springs also from a deep cultural well. Our nation has a long-standing tradition of clamoring for government protection from the actions of criminals, while at the same time rebelling against the constraints that those protective activities place on our lives" (p. 8). Likewise, Alpert and Smith (1999) point out that, "The authority of the police to use force represents one of the most misunderstood powers granted to representatives of government. Police officers are authorized to use both psychological and physical force to apprehend criminals and solve crimes" (p. 481).

The duality of views about the use of deadly force by police officers extends into the courtroom itself. As Alpert and Smith (1999) point out, "It is likely that many reasonable and even highly-skilled officers would respond similarly in a given factual scenario that a jury has determined to be unreasonable conduct" (p. 482). There is also a duality of distinctions between deadly force based on its willful and intentional use by police officers and its use based on a lack of appropriate training. For instance, Smith (1994) reports that, "Discussions of police violence are often blurred by the failure to distinguish between violence that is clearly extralegal and abusive and violence that is simply the necessary result of police incompetence. This distinction is important because the causes of these two types of violence, and the motivations of the officers involved, vary greatly" (p. 485).

On the one hand, extralegal violence occurs in those encounters where police officers willfully and wrongfully use force that they know exceeds the boundaries of their official offices; on the other hand, unnecessary violence takes place during those encounters when otherwise well-intentioned police officers are unable to handle a given encounter without resorting to unnecessary force (Smith, 1994). These dichotomous perspectives concerning the use of deadly force are not restricted to the United States, of course, but they do appear to be particularly pronounced in this country due in part to the high-profile mainstream media coverage of such events and the portrayal of deadly force in contemporary entertainment venues such as television and motion pictures.

Although popular views about the appropriate role of a police force in modern America changed somewhat following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, with many Americans recognizing and accepting the need for heightened security measures, even in a free society, but the use of deadly force remains preeminent in the debate over this proper role. Indeed, a good many Americans today may not even remember the events of the last 50 years or so that contributed to this debate today. According to Klinger, "In recent years, this sense of disquiet about deadly government power has repeatedly been expressed in the form of social unrest. A good many of the major civil disturbances (and many of the smaller ones) that have erupted in our nation in the last four decades have been spawned by anger over law enforcement activity, often the use of deadly force" (p. 8).

This anger has been especially manifested by minority groups who believe they have been singled out by police officers for the use of deadly force. For example, Klinger notes that when deadly force was used against a minority member in New York City during the early 1960s, the backlash caused another death, numerous injuries and an enormous amount of property destruction. In this regard, Klinger (2004) writes, "Indeed one the first large-scale riots of the tumultuous 1960s occurred in July 1964, after an off-duty New York City police lieutenant fatally shot a black teenager who attacked him with a knife. Two days later, a riot that claimed one life and caused nearly two dozen injuries broke out when a crowd marched on the local police station house to protest the shooting" (p. 8).

The social unrest that resulted from the teenager's death was not restricted to these several days of rioting, either: "The rioting spread, and over the next few days the police battled brick-tossing crowds, and firefighters doused flames set by Molotov cocktails in the minority enclaves of Harlem and the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn" (Klinger, 2004, p. 8). The years that followed this event were also characterized by a great deal of attention over the police use of deadly force. For instance, in their text, Understanding Human Behavior for Effective Police Work, Russell and Beigel (1999) emphasize that, "Police officials are very aware of the problems inherent in the use of deadly force," and cite comments from Chief Joseph S. Dominelli, president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, in 1980 who noted: "The use of deadly force is the most awesome and frightening duty ever imposed upon a police officer in a democratic society. No other occupation group, outside of military forces in wartime, is authorized by law to make a life and death decision under the split-second pressure of circumstances facing the police officer at the time he reaches for his service weapon" (quoted in Russell & Beigel, 1999 at p. 366). Likewise, during the 1980s, the Supreme Court first balanced the various competing interests involved to determine that police officers were authorized to use deadly force in order to seize a fleeing suspect, but only in those situation in which the officers had probable cause that the suspect had "committed a crime involving the infliction or threatened infliction of serious physical harm" or posed a threat of "serious physical harm, either to the officer[s] or to others" in Tennessee v. Garner (471 U.S. 1, 1985) (cited in Urbonya, 2003, p. 1387).

Based on the foregoing trends, police department policies in the 21st century have sought to develop basic guidelines that can be used by police officers to evaluate the appropriateness of deadly force applications; these guidelines also serve as constraints on the use of deadly force in an effort to minimize police officers' and their department's exposure to liability (Albert & Smith, p. 485). According to these authorities, "Perhaps the most influential policy on the use of force is the Model Policy developed by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP)" (Alpert & Smith, p. 485). With regard to the use of deadly force, the IACP's policy stipulates as follows: "[P]olice officers shall use only that force that is reasonably necessary to effectively bring an incident under control, while protecting the lives of the officer or another.... Police officers are authorized to use department-approved nondeadly force techniques and issued equipment for resolution of incidents, as follows: (a) to protect themselves or another from physical harm; or (b) to restrain or subdue a resistant individual; or to bring an unlawful situation safely and effectively under control" (cited in Alpert & Smith at p. 485). The IACP guidelines, though, do not provide any guidance concerning the meaning of the term "reasonably necessary" nor does it provide any method for its interpretation; however, the guidelines discuss the "reasonable man" as follows: "The model policy adopts the 'reasonable man' standard in this and similar contexts to establish whether an officer's actions under given circumstances were justifiable" and asks, "What would reasonable police officers do under the same or similar circumstances?" (cited in Albert & Smith at p. 486). Once again turning to Black's, the legal definition for the reasonable man doctrine provided is, "The standard which one must observe to avoid liability for negligence is a standard of the reasonable man under all the circumstances including the foreseeability of harm to one such as a plaintiff" (p. 1266).

The guidelines provided by the IACP, though, do not make a distinction between the "reasonable man" and a "reasonable police officer"; likewise, the guidelines do not include an assessment about innovations in technology and…

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