Legal v. Moral

Given the recent decision in Madison not to prosecute a police officer in the shooting of an unarmed youth, this blog may be even more relevant as the community presses to hear a response to what was on the cover this week’s New York Times Magazine: “The demand is simple, stop killing us!” It is a demand that is being raised today throughout our great nation.

Improving Police: A Necessary Conversation

UnknownThe recent U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) report concerning the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) tackles a common misconception many police have internalized: the belief that fear of life justifies the use of deadly force.

 From the report:

“The dictum ‘in fear for my life’ was the most common theme throughout all of our conversations with PPD officers and sergeants regarding deadly force policy. Yet, notably, the word ‘fear’ does not appear in PPD’s [use of deadly force policy] nor is it supported by current case law. As noted in the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Deorle v. Rutherford, a simple statement that an officer is in fear for his life is not an objective factor.” 

What the DOJ found in Philadelphia was that officers were relying on the simple dictate – “if I fear, I can shoot.” And it’s wrong.

This may be part of the problem along…

View original post 1,521 more words


  1. Sir…

    With all due respect, you are perpetuating a myth that police officers across the country are “killing” people at an alarming rate, and that the use of force by America’s sworn protectors is somehow an epidemic that needs to be corrected. Below I have pasted an article from the Public Agency Training Council that outlines the actual numbers (culled from FBI and CDC data) regarding the use of force – specifically deadly force – by police officers.

    I will agree that there have been some very well publicized uses of force by police officers that have brought this discussion to the forefront, and I will also agree with you that the relationship between the police and the communities that we have sworn to protect is in desperate need of a complete overhaul. We have to get back to the principles that were set out for us by Sir Robert Peel, and to remember that we are a part of the community, that we come from the community, and that our power is given to us by the community.

    However, when someone of your experience and pedigree uses the reserves in your influence bank to support and perpetuate the media myth that police officers use disproportionate amounts of force against certain members or segments of the community, it threatens all of the hard work that is being done to reconnect with the community and to rebuild those relationships that are vital to the survival of both sides.

    Along with every other hard-working police officer across this great land, I will freely admit that there are members of my profession that abuse their power, cross the line, and tarnish the work that is done by the rest of us. However, there are also a small number of lawyers, nurses, judges and even clergy who cross the line, become criminals, and tarnish the good, hard work that is done by the rest of the profession.

    I will be at the front of the line to identify, remove and prosecute those in my beloved profession who have tarnished the badge. What I won’t do is to stand by and watch as people who have either never done this job, or who no longer do this job, criticize actions and enrage communities over actions that they never will or no longer do understand. Those criticisms serve no legitimate purpose, and they do not (and never have) fostered the attempt at legitimate conversation. A productive conversation can only be engaged when both sides approach the issue with open minds, open hearts, and a free exchange of information and ideas.

    Thank you for your efforts to engage in the conversation, but PLEASE be wary of fanning the flames of a controversy that has been created by a vocal few to force changes that are not in the best interests of this country!

    The article follows…


    May 2015

    For duplication & redistribution of this article, please contact Public Agency Training Council by phone at 1.800.365.0119.
    PATC Legal & Liability Risk Management Institute 5235 Decatur Blvd Indianapolis, IN 46241
    Article Source:
    Printable Version:
    ©2015 Richard R. Johnson, Ph.D., PATC Legal & Liability Risk Management Institute

    Are “Too Many” People Dying from Police Use of Force?

    Community reactions to a few recent deaths from police use of force have raised public concerns about the prevalence of police use of deadly force generally, and police use of deadly force against African-American men specifically. Activists and media outlets have suggested a national epidemic of deaths from police use of force currently exists, with thousands of citizens being killed annually by the police. This article will attempt to estimate how many deaths from police use of force we should expect annually in the U.S. based on officers’ lawful and legitimate uses of force in response to serious attacks. After determining the benchmark for how many lethal force incidents we should expect, the article will then use death certificate records from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to determine exactly how many persons actually die from police use of force in the U.S. each year.

    Developing a Lethal Force Benchmark

    The FBI annually publishes a Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted (LEOKA) report that details the Uniform Crime Report data on the number of law enforcement officers assaulted and killed across the nation’s 18,000+ law enforcement agencies. These reports are publicly accessible at: According to these reports, for the 10-year period of 2003 through 2012 there were 576,925 reported felonious assaults against police officers. Of these assaults on officers, 191,225 (33.1%) involved some sort of weapon, such as a gun, knife, club, vehicle, baseball bat, table leg, beer bottle, hammer, etc. Of the assaults with a weapon, 32,767 involved an edged weapon or a firearm, for an average of 3,277 deadly weapon assaults on officers annually. We could use this figure (3,277) as a conservative estimate of the number of justified deadly force incidents we could expect each year from law enforcement officers.

    This is a very conservative estimate for several reasons. First, not every law enforcement agency reports Uniform Crime Report data to the FBI every year, suggesting this figure undercounts the actual number of knife and gun assaults against police officers annually.
    Second, this figure also fails to count assaults against officers involving other deadly weapons, such as automobiles, since knives and guns are the only type of deadly weapon specifically measured by the FBI data. Third, not every instance justifying the use of lethal force involves a weapon as sometimes assailants overpower officers without weapons, or are engaged in taking control of the officer’s own weapon. Nevertheless, in spite of these weaknesses, let us proceed with this conservative benchmark of anticipating about 3,277 lethal force incidents per year.

    While the FBI data does not report the racial characteristics of the assailants in all of these assaults, the FBI does indicate the races of those who have feloniously killed police officers. According to these same reports from 2003-2012, of those assailants who murdered police officers, 44.3% were African-American males in spite of the fact African-American males make up only 6% of the U.S. population. Assuming that attacks by African-American males are no more or less lethal than attacks by persons of other races and sexes, we can assume that 44.3% of all knife and gun assaults on officers are committed by black males. This would mean we should anticipate about 1,452 legally justified lethal force incidents against African-American men each year. Based on knife and gun assaults on police, each year we can reasonably expect:
     3,277 justifiable lethal force incidents expected annually
     1,452 justifiable lethal force incidents involving African-American men expected annually

    So How Many Use of Force Deaths Actually Occur?

    The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) collects data from death certificates annually to track the various rate of many causes of death in the U.S. One category of death they track is death by “legal interventions” which includes deaths resulting from “injuries inflicted by police or other law-enforcing agents in the course of arresting or attempting to arrest lawbreakers, suppressing disturbances, maintaining order, and other legal
    action.” The CDC publishes their mortality data annually and this information is publicly available online at:

    During the 10-year period of 2003 through 2012, the CDC recorded 4,285 deaths from “legal interventions,” of which 3,627 (84.6%) were due to firearms and the remaining 658 were due to vehicles, impact weapons, electronic weapons, and officer’s unarmed use of force. Of the 4,285 deaths from “legal interventions,” 1,127 (26.3%) were of African-American men. These data, reported by medical doctors on death certificates, suggest
    that from 2003 through 2012 only an average of 429 individuals died each year from police use of force in the U.S. These data also suggest that, on average, only 113 African-American men die annually from police use of force. So, from nation-wide death certificate data, we know that with over 800,000 peace officers policing a national population of over 320 million people:
     An average of 429 deaths from police use of force actually occur annually
     An average of 112 deaths of African-American men from police use of force actually occur annually.

    Comparing the Benchmark with the Actual Outcomes

    Based on the number of knife and gun assaults police officers experience annually, we conservatively estimated that there should be about 3,277 justifiable lethal uses of force by law enforcement officers each year. In reality, however, morgues only see about 429 deaths from all forms of police action. This reveals that the numbers of deaths that occur annually from police use of force are actually only 13% of the situations in which law enforcement officers could legally and justifiably take a life. In other words, only about 1 in 8 knife and gun assaults on law enforcement officers results in a death of the assailant.

    As for use of force deaths involving African-American men, based on knife and gun assaults on officers, it was estimated that officers could lawfully and justifiably use lethal force against African-American men an average of 1,452 times per year. In actuality, only about 112 African-American men die annually from the actions of law enforcement officers, or 8% of the situations in which officers were legally justified in using lethal force. Only 1 in 13 knife and gun assaults on officers by African-American men resulted in the death of the assailant. Also note that while African-American men make up 44.3% of assailants against the police, they only make up 26.3% of the deaths from legal interventions.
     Only 13% of the situations in which officers are legally justified in using lethal force results in a citizen death
     Only 8% of the situations in which officers were legally justified in using lethal force against an African-American male results in a death
     While African-American men make up 44.3% of assailants against the police, they only make up 26.3% of the deaths from legal interventions.

    Putting Things in Context

    Deaths for any reason are regrettable, and deaths in the hundreds can easily raise public concerns, but one also must remember that there are approximately 320,206,000 persons in the U.S., of which approximately 19,212,360 are African-American men. CDC death certificate data indicates that many other forms of unnatural death are far more prevalent among Americans:
     575 people die annually from firearms accidents
     2,603 persons die annually from medical errors during surgery
     16,491 persons are murdered annually
     35,817 die in motor vehicle accidents annually
     38,863 die from suicide annually
    It is clear that people are far more likely to die at the hands of a criminal, an inattentive driver, their doctor, or themselves than they are to be killed by use of force from a law enforcement officer. In fact, according to the National Weather Service, an average of 363 persons are hit by lightning annually in the U.S., revealing that one’s likelihood of being killed by a law enforcement officer is almost as rare as being struck by lightning.


    Official data verified by the FBI and the CDC reveal that deaths from use of force by law enforcement officers are relatively rare. The evidence reveals that circumstances permitting the legal and justifiable use of lethal force by law enforcement officers occur thousands of times annually, yet less than 500 die annually from police use of force. The evidence reveals that while almost half of those who kill police officers are African-American men, only about a quarter of those who die from police use of force are African-American men. Finally, all of this evidence is publicly available online for any agency, news outlet, or community activist group to examine.

    The evidence is clear that there is no epidemic of killings of citizens or African-American males by law enforcement officers in the U.S. While there appear to be a few highly-publicized cases of excessive lethal force recently, overall law enforcement officers kill far fewer citizens than they would be legally justified to do in self-defense.


    1. Thanks for your perspective. As you know, we simply do NOT know how many persons are killed by police officers each year (the President’s Task Force on Policing has now called for mandatory reporting of these incidents). I will not accept that somehow because I have retired I have no say in the state of policing in our nation. As a police chief, I taught improvement methods throughout the U.S. and wrote three books on what we were learning in Madison. While your data may not support the crisis American policing is now experiencing, the overall feeling among people of color is that we, the police, are singling them out and killing them. That is a dangerous feeling for them to have and one that the police must respond and overcome. It will take time. There are vestiges of slavery and Jim Crow enforcement still in our culture. And the disparity between the income, employment, and education of black Americans compared to whites is one that we must address as a nation. Sure, this all should not be put on the backs of police and that is why I suggest police need to be strong, fair and compassionate voices in the community for positive change. I don’t know if you have read my book, “Arrested Development.” Along with my blog posts, it expresses a philosophy of policing I have held for over 50 years now. Maybe I have learned some things that you haven’t; that’s always a possibility. I only ask you listen to me with an open heart and decide why you think I feel so strongly the way I do. Right now we are in a tense situation, the back actions of a very small percentage of bad apples today are spoiling the bunch. Good policing actually begins with you and how you treat persons of color. Trust can be built one police contact at a time and it must begin now! Again, thanks for your feedback.


  2. Ed said: “What I won’t do is to stand by and watch as people who have either never done this job, or who no longer do this job, criticize actions and enrage communities over actions that they never will or no longer do understand.”

    Hey Ed, who pays for police services again? Oh that’s right, the community. So maybe you should think of that before you decide who gets to critique the police. When community members–even vocal critics–are ignored by the police, then the community feels like the police do not represent them. And then the police lose credibility. And then you get Ferguson, Baltimore, New York, etc. So instead of rolling out the tired old, “you’re not a cop, you wouldn’t understand” tribal response, maybe you should remember who you work for.

    I understand that there are low information activists out there. One trick ponies who seem to specialize in chanting the same old slogans and throwing rocks at Starbucks. But there are also a number of police out there who seem to lack imagination and seem to despise the communities police. These police are particularly behind the curve when it comes to enthusiastically supporting a drug war that has failed and aggressive tactics that encourage the low information types I mentioned. And I won’t even get into the smashing people’s cell phones trick some of you seem to like so much.

    Ed, you are a public servant (in theory). If you don’t want to hear from the public, maybe you should look for a private sector job. If you are really dedicated to police service, then maybe you should listen to the critics instead of hiding at the FOP lodge and drowning them out with pro-police chest-thumping. If you don’t like activist echo chambers, then don’t support police echo chambers.


    A lowly non-sworn citizen


    1. Dave,

      I apologize to you and everyone else who read my response and thought the same thing that you did. I should have more accurately expressed my thoughts, so please allow me to do that here.

      You said, “When community members–even vocal critics–are ignored by the police, then the community feels like the police do not represent them. And then the police lose credibility. And then you get Ferguson, Baltimore, New York, etc.” You are absolutely correct in that point. When the community feels as though we no longer care about them, it doesn’t matter what we say, that is their reality. When we lose our credibility, we lose the legitimate basis of our authority within that community. I get that.

      You also said, “I understand that there are low information activists out there. One trick ponies who seem to specialize in chanting the same old slogans and throwing rocks at Starbucks.” It was these low information activists, the same ones who seize upon every tragic event to stir up their own politically motivated agendas, to whom I was referring. You are absolutely correct that, as a member of the community that I have sworn to protect, you have the absolute right to observe and critique the job that I do on a day-to-day basis. Whether I may like or agree with your opinion is irrelevant. If you are willing to have a fair and considerate conversation, I am more than willing to engage and listen to you. What I ask from that conversation, though, is that you enter the conversation with the same open mind and willingness to change that you ask me to bring. As a non-sworn community member, you don’t understand everything that goes into doing my job. I get that, and I don’t consider that a problem – as long as you are willing to consider my explanations and descriptions of the events we are discussing. Because I may not be a member of your racial, ethnic, or socio-economic group, I do not understand all of the reasons that you have the feelings and beliefs, the priorities and values that you do. I also don’t see that as a problem. I will come to the conversation with that open mind and willingness to learn, and I want you to come to the table with an open mind and a willingness to share. That is all that I am saying.

      Thank you for your response. Believe me when I tell you that I am not “chest thumping” at the FOP lodge, and that I am actively participating in the attempt to reconnect our police department with the community that we serve. The answer to this problem is going to take a lot of hard work, a few tears and a few fears, and for both sides to open up and work together.


  3. I just wanted to say that I appreciate this site and your thoughts on police work. I am a patrol sergeant and regular reader. I have been stressing to the officers I work with that we are more than law enforcers. Keeping people safe and also feeling safe are important objectives that we can lose sight of in law enforcement. I also try to stress the idea of doing what you should do and not what you can do. These concepts are not pushed enough in law enforcement. We need to work from within and from with out to improve the profession. Thanks for your ideas. Keep it up.


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