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Lethal Force as a Police Response

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 1984
31 pages
This review of studies of police shootings addresses shooting numbers and trends, racial discrimination, mechanisms, for controlling police use of deadly force, officer characteristics, the shooting context, and police shootings in foreign countries.
A 1982 study by Matulia et al., along with other data sources, shows a decrease in police shootings over the last 15 or 20 years, although complaints about police shootings have recently increased. Five comprehensive studies of police shootings (Milton, Fyfe, Geller and Karales, Matulia, and Binder) are reviewed to determine various research findings. All studies found a disproportionate number of black victims in police shootings, but any conclusion about a pattern of racial discrimination in police shootings is confounded by variables that support alternative explanatory hypotheses. The analysis of mechanisms for controlling police use of deadly force focuses on common law reflected in State law, case law, and departmental policy. Studies of the characteristics of officers involved in shootings have yielded mixed results and no clear profile. Studies' findings on shooting contexts focus on associated crimes, police units involved, precipitating incidents, and whether officers were on-duty or off-duty. A review of police shooting studies in other countries focuses on Australia and Canada. Rudimentary theory derived from various studies is summarized. 186 footnotes.

Date Published: January 1, 1984