American Journal of Criminal Justice

, Volume 40, Issue 2, pp 205–224 | Cite as

A Theoretical Integration of Social Learning Theory with Terror Management Theory: Towards an Explanation of Police Shootings of Unarmed Suspects

  • Jon MaskalyEmail author
  • Christopher M. Donner


Each year in the United States, an unknown number of individuals are shot by law enforcement officers. Many of the suspects shot by officers are suspects who pose a lethal threat to officers or others, and thus the officers were legally justified in using deadly force. However, some estimates indicate that as many as 40 % of those shot by law enforcement each year are unarmed at the time of the encounter (Roy, 2004). Here, we present a theoretical model that integrates a traditional criminological theory (social learning theory) and a social psychological theory (terror management theory) in an effort to explain police shootings of unarmed suspects. Independently, neither theory can effectively or consistently explain the phenomena. However, when the two theories are integrated, a strong conceptual base is developed for explaining law enforcement shootings of unarmed suspects.


Deadly force Terror management theory Social learning theory Theoretical integration 


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Copyright information

© Southern Criminal Justice Association 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Criminology, Law, and JusticeUniversity of Illinois at ChicagoChicagoUSA
  2. 2.Department of Criminal Justice & CriminologyLoyola University ChicagoChicagoUSA

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