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The use of deadly force by police
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One of the more volatile issues in American society today is the use of force by police - deadly force, in particular. In a free society, liberty is cherished and the only people with the immediate authority to take away one's liberty are the police. Consequently, when a police officer uses force to take someone into custody or to stop life-threatening behaviour, there are occasional claims that the officer's actions were improper. At the same time, the fear of crime has never been higher in our country and people expect police officers to vigorously enforce the law.

Among the elements in this milieu are the police officers themselves. Officers often work with people who are at their worst; drunk, drugged, deranged, desperate, angry, hurt, or violated. Police officers also know that there has been an alarming increase, nationwide, in violent assaults against them. Criminals are much more assaultive, aggressive and violent towards law enforcement personnel, especially during physical arrest situations.

Citizens have the expectation to be safe and secure, and they also have the right to be spared from unlawful conduct by the police. The peoples' right to expect the police to conduct themselves in a Constitutional manner is absolute. Officers also have the right to expect to go home alive and unharmed at the end of their shifts. They deserve a police chief who understands the challenges they face, and who will not increase their vulnerability to injury or death by allowing political forces or public misconceptions to cause them to be reluctant to use appropriate force when warranted. Officers cannot be expected to wait until it is too late to protect themselves or other citizens who are endangered.

We are compelled to thoroughly review all instances when deadly force is used to ensure compliance with both departmental policy and the law. Police chiefs must back their officers one hundred percent when their actions are justified and legal. When a police officer uses deadly force - even when there is no resultant injury or death, the case has to be thoroughly investigated to include all pertinent details. To help ensure impartiality, the District Attorney's office conducts a parallel investigation. When all the evidence and witness statements have been gathered, the District Attorney renders a finding as to whether the officer's use of force was legally justified or not. In some rare instances, when there are indicators that a local agency may not be handling the case properly, the Federal Bureau of Investigation will investigate the case to determine if there was a civil rights violation or a federal crime committed by the involved officer(s) or their supervisors.

Contrary to the belief of some people, the police do not look for opportunities to use force - especially deadly force. Force is reserved for those instances when other reasonable options do not exist. When an officer has to use deadly force, it automatically leads to his being removed from the job for a period of time. The event causes the involved agency to expend hundreds of hours investigating the incident, the involved officers often suffer from emotional difficulty and stress afterwards (sometimes for a lifetime), and when the incident is published in the media, it often generates additional problems for all involved. Frankly, everyone loses when a police officer has to take a life in the course of their official duties.

During the course of their careers, police officers receive copious amounts of training in the laws that govern the use of force. They are exposed to use-of-force decision-making scenarios and they practice with the various weapons that are provided by their departments. When it is all said and done, however, it is still a human being who finds him or herself in the unenviable position of having to make a split-second decision on whether or not the circumstances require the taking of a life. That split-second decision will be reviewed by any number of official sources afterward, along with the media and the public. However, unlike the officer, the aforementioned will have [seemingly] limitless time to examine every infinitesimal detail and every action and thought of the officer involved in the case. For the various components of our legal system to completely reconcile one of these deadly force events, it can literally take years. In the meantime, the officer, the employing agency and the decedent's loved ones and friends are held in an agonizing state of suspense and sadness.

We can only pray that these situations do not arise, and that the authority of our police is respected. The actions of the police are largely dictated by a suspect's compliance or non-compliance with the officer's lawful orders or actions while making arrests, trying to control dangerous situations, or to effect traffic stops and the like. In the end, when citizens assault the police or they evade, resist, threaten, or otherwise fail to comply, they are raising the stakes of the situation to potentially deadly levels. When these things occur, no one wins; everyone loses.