Do Situational Differences Exist Between the Fatal Shooting of Armed versus Unarmed Persons by Law Enforcement Officers?

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Carroll, Bonnie
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University Honors College Middle Tennessee State University
In recent years, significant attention has been drawn to incidents of law enforcement’s use of force, especially when lethal. The lethal shooting of Michael Brown by Ferguson police in August of 2014 brought new members and new energy to the Black Lives Matter movement, and the death of unarmed Eric Garner in July of the same year emphasized the occurrence of lethal use of force on unarmed suspects. In 2015, The Guardian and The Washington Post began recording cases of officer-involved shootings after a national realization that no consistent record was being kept by the U.S. government. Up until the present, research has been largely laboratory based and focused on person-specific variables. Situational variables have the potential to open a previously untapped understanding of these situations, hopefully with which positive change can be advanced. Focusing on the 963 cases of officer-involved shootings in 2016, data were gathered for time of incident, numbers of officer and non-officers present, and warrant status of the deceased. Utilizing this data and that of The Washington Post’s database, the present study compared cases of officer-involved lethal shootings of armed and unarmed individuals. The present study found that armed deceased were older than those unarmed and more likely to have a warrant, and these armed cases generally involved a higher number of officers and non-officers present at the time of shooting. The compelling implications of these conclusions and their potential for reducing the number of officer involved lethal shootings, armed or unarmed, are discussed.
Behavioral and Health Sciences, Decision- making, situational variables