Educating America: Law Enforcement and Deadly Force

michael_brelo_verdict_3_cleveland_may_23_2015Knowledge is power.  Knowledge gives you the power to think for yourself and not rely on the knowledge of others.  The headlines are loaded with reports of police shooting and/or killing “unarmed” individuals.  The country, especially the minority communities, is in an uproar and demanding action.  There have been multiple occasions in which officers were cleared of wrong doing and tensions have increased.  There are instances when officers have been terminated, just to satisfy the public.   A lot of the uproar and tension is fueled by opportunist minsters and so called community activists trying to establish themselves in the community.  Perhaps they don’t know themselves, but it is time to explain the deadly force laws in the United States.

In order to explain the law, things need to be put into context.  When an officer uses his service weapon, it is considered deadly force.     Deadly force is defined as force which a reasonable person would consider likely to cause death or serious bodily harm. Its use may be justified only under conditions of extreme necessity, when all lesser means have failed or cannot reasonably be employed.  Notice that the word weapon is not mentioned anywhere in this definition.  An unarmed person can exert force on a person that would make a reasonable person fear that they are going to die or get seriously injured.   An unarmed person has the ability to choke, punch, and disarm an officer.  All of which can cause death or serious bodily injury.  Take a look at the video below which demonstrates how dangerous an “unarmed”  person can be.

WARNING: The video contains violence and may be shocking to some.

A person driving a vehicle is unarmed; however, once they accelerate and aim their vehicle towards an officer, that 4,000 lb vehicle is their weapon.  That weapon can cause death or serious bodily injury.  If the officer is unable to get out of the way of that vehicle or if he feels that others are in danger of death or serious injury, deadly force is authorized.

Deadly force is authorized when the officer:

  1. Uses it for self-defense. An officer has to be threatened with deadly force or has had deadly force used on him.  An officer does not have to wait for a weapon to be pulled out before he/she resorts to deadly force.  If the subject has been ordered to raise his/her hands and they in turn make an overt movement to suggest they are going for a weapon, the officer can use deadly force.
  2. Uses it to defend another person. An officer can use deadly force if they observe a person being threatened with deadly force or they observe deadly force being used on that person.
  3. Uses it to apprehend a fleeing violent felon. This is a tricky one.  The officer must know:
    1. The fleeing subject has committed a violent felony and
    2. The officer believes that if that person is not immediately apprehended, the public at large will be in danger.

Deadly force cannot be used:

  1. On a person known to be a juvenile, unless the juvenile is threatening to use, has used, or using deadly force.
  2. As a warning shot.  That’s right.  Warning shots are illegal in most states and a majority of police departments.
  3. To apprehend a person fleeing from a misdemeanor or non-violent felony.

My examples have spoken on police officer’s firing weapons.  However, the police baton can play a factor in the deadly force topic.  Officers are trained to never strike anyone above the shoulders with a baton, unless there is a situation where deadly force is authorized.  A back-up officer arrives on the scene and finds a suspect choking his partner.  It is up to that officer to determine which method of force he’s going to use to defend his partner.  Striking the subject in the head is allowable.

I’m not saying every police shooting is proper.  Officers must follow these strict guidelines.  Any deviation, should be handled appropriately.  Hopefully this bit of knowledge, can give you a better understanding of the use of deadly force.  Deadly force laws do not require law enforcement officers to be superhuman.  Their actions must mirror those of a “reasonable person.” It is unfortunate, anytime deadly force is used.   Law enforcement and citizens operate from the same playbook.  Take the time to get a better understanding of the deadly force law.  You never know if you’ll find yourself as one of twelve reasonable people sitting on a grand jury or trial jury panel one day.  God forbid, one day you may have to apply these rules to save your life or someone else’s.