Police Use of Deadly Force: Law's Impact on Policy and Practice

John D. Burrow, University of South Carolina

The issue of police use of deadly force has received prominent news coverage over the last several years. In the city of Boston, for example, a group of prominent African-American leaders called for an investigation into five "deadly force killings" that occurred over a nine-month period. Similarly, investigations into police use of deadly force have taken place in Maine and Maryland. Though the police were exonerated in many of these investigations, there are still questions of whether they followed proper procedure. In light of these incidents, the Supreme Court's decision in Tennessee v. Garner takes on a great deal of importance in terms of evaluating whether the officers may be considered blameless relative to these "deadly force killings." This paper will examine the recent spate of police shootings within the context of Garner where it will be suggested that police officers, and police departments, are failing to heed the Supreme Court's admonition that law enforcement practices will not be hampered by using measures less drastic than "deadly force" when attempting to apprehend unarmed, fleeing suspects.

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Updated 05/20/2006