Deadly Force

The term deadly force refers to the actions of a police officer who shoots and kills a suspect. Each year the police kill about 600 citizens and wound another 1,200.

Most police officers shoot for reasons other than those based on race. Nevertheless, race influences some police shootings. Studies find that police sometimes shoot blacks in circumstances less threatening than those in which they shoot whites.

The greatest use of deadly force by the police occurs in communities with high levels of economic inequality, large minority populations, and high rates of violent crime. Moreover, police officers are most likely to shoot suspects who are armed and with whom they become involved in a violent confrontation. Minority group members are overrepresented among victims in police killings.

Controlling deadly force

Two approaches have reduced the number of persons shot and killed by the police. First, in an act of judicial policymaking, the U.S. Supreme Court replaced the permissive fleeing‐felon standard for the use of deadly force with the defense‐of‐life standard. The fleeing‐felon rule allowed a police officer to shoot to prevent the escape of any person accused of a felony. In Tennessee v. Garner (1985), the Court stipulated that police couldn't use deadly force unless it was necessary to prevent an escape and the officer had probable cause to believe that the suspect posed a significant threat of death or serious injury to the officer or others. The Court decision forced many states to change their fleeing‐felon laws. Second, administrative rulemaking has caused police shootings to drop significantly. In the mid‐1970s, police departments developed restrictive internal policies on the use of deadly force. These policies stipulated that the use of deadly force is permissible only when the life of an officer or some other person is in danger.