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Police use of force

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By Patryk Patrioti

With so much news in the media about police shootings, it’s no wonder there seems to be a great mystery about how, when, and where the police can use their firearms. I thought I’d take a minute to explain the legalities in some detail.

Police are neither trained to “shoot to kill” nor “shoot in nonlethal places”. They are trained to aim for and shoot at the the center of available mass until the threat is stopped. Period.

“Shooting to kill” is actually illegal in itself. The use of force in self defense must not exceed that force which is necessary to secure your safety. So strictly speaking, if they die as the result of your use of force, that’s legal- but your goal cannot be to “kill them”.
Likewise, “shooting in nonlethal places” is also illegal. It’s called “maiming”- and you can be sued civilly and prosecuted criminally. And likewise, if someone is maimed as the result of your use of force, that is legal, but your goal cannot be to “maim them”. It also can get you in a world of trouble, as a jury may infer that if you had the time to aim and shoot for a non-lethal wound, you weren’t in enough fear for your life to justify the use of lethal force to begin with. (A firearm is by definition a “lethal” weapon, no matter where you actually strike someone; unlike a weapon such as a baseball bat, which becomes “dangerous-as-used”- a “dangerous” weapon.)

Medically speaking, it can take from seconds to minutes for your shots to become effective and stop the threat. Simply shooting someone in the arm or leg won’t necessarily stop their ability to attack you, especially if they are likewise armed with a firearm. Wounds to the vital organs are necessary for instant threat removal, and by nature- those tend to be lethal.

Police are generally exempted from the “duty to retreat” because they also have a duty NOT to retreat. They are expected to run into situations others would run from.
Police are also generally allowed to use one level of force greater than a civilian would in the same instance. The nature of police work in itself requires the law to give them that extra latitude.
Ultimately, the use of force- even in self-defense- is technically a criminal act. “Self-defense” is a legal excuse for using force, whereby you may be excepted from prosecution under certain circumstances.

Usually-
1) You must be in fear of imminent bodily harm or death (or harm to another)
2) You must exhaust any reasonable means to escape such harm*
3) You must use no more force than is reasonably necessary to secure your safety (or the safety of another)
*exceptions are the “castle rule” which applies in your own home, and police officers. In some jurisdictions, “stand your ground” applies, and supplants the “duty to retreat.” 
In most jurisdictions, these same rules apply to civilians as well as police, with the exceptions noted.

Hope this clears a few things up. 
-Patryk Patrioti
 ~pat