Armed encounters between police and citizens are tense, uncertain, and rapidly-evolving. Every decision an officer makes in such an encounter involves balancing potential risks and benefits.
Police officers have a duty to protect human life and safety, and other duties, including the duty to arrest people for whom there are valid warrants, and the duty to prevent the escape of violent felons who threaten the community. In some circumstances involving felonies, police officers are legally entitled to use deadly force to make arrests.
Most often a police officer’s use of deadly force occurs in self-defense, in the defense of other officers, or in the defense of citizens. Under the law, a police officer may use deadly force if the officer reasonably believes that the use of deadly physical force is necessary to defend the officer or another person from what the officer reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of deadly physical force.
That reasonable belief has both a subjective and an objective component. The subjective component requires that the officer actually believe that the use of deadly force is necessary. The objective component requires that a “reasonable” person, under the same or similar circumstances, and having the same or similar training and experience as the officer, would also believe that the use of deadly force is necessary.
In deciding whether to use deadly force, an officer must consider several things in a split second: