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Public Acceptance of Police Use of Deadly Force: An Exploratory Study

Abstract

When a police officer uses deadly physical force, the public often questions this behavior. There may be times, however, when deadly force might be expected by the public. For example, as first responders to terrorist and active shooter events, officers are expected to quickly end the confrontation, and deadly force may be the only option available. Contemporary scholarship, however, does not explore the public’s view of when the use of deadly force is acceptable or expected. This chapter offers an exploratory examination of when deadly force is acceptable to the American public. A vignette research design was used that described an active shooter event, integrating four contextual dimensions that might influence the use of deadly force. A convenience sample of college students responded to an online survey to explore the public’s views of the need to use deadly force. Results indicate that respondents receiving vignettes in which the officer uses deadly force, rather than not, are more likely to agree with this behavior. Further, non-White students are less likely to agree with the immediate use of deadly force.

Keywords

  • Deadly force
  • Police shootings
  • Vignette research
  • Active shooter

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Data was collected for student race. The term “Hispanic” was not used because, strictly speaking, Hispanic is an ethnicity, not a race.

  2. 2.

    The author has taught both introductory and advanced level policing and law enforcement issues classes for nearly two decades, and students continue to believe that police officers should be able to either shoot a suspect in an arm or leg to end an event. Sometimes students believe an officer could actually shoot the suspect’s gun from his hands.

  3. 3.

    To further assess the statistical power of this data, an a priori analysis was also conducted with similar G*Power 3 settings. The program indicated that an adequate n would be 70 respondents.

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Appendix A

Appendix A

A police officer is dispatched to (an active shooter incident/a disturbance call about aman with a gun”). The officer arrives a few minutes later at a local family restaurant. He sees several people running from the building (but none of them appear injured/and some of them are injured and bleeding). A female in the parking lot points at the restaurant and yells to the officer “he has a gun!” The officer is armed with his pistol, and he immediately enters the building. He locates the suspect in a hallway, who is armed with (a pistol/an assault rifle). The officer (yellsdrop the weaponseveral times. The suspect hesitates for a moment, but then drops his gun and surrenders/immediately shoots the suspect in the leg, who drops his weapon/immediately shoots and kills the suspect.)

On a scale of 1–5, do you disagree or agree with the decision made by the officer when he confronted the suspect?

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Phillips, S.W. (2023). Public Acceptance of Police Use of Deadly Force: An Exploratory Study. In: Farmer, C., Evans, R. (eds) Policing & Firearms. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-13013-7_16

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