Deadly Force Policies and Officer Safety

Sometimes I hear the argument that raising the bar on police use of deadly force will somehow put more officers in physical jeopardy. Personally, I do not agree with that either experientially or what I believe the data to be. Here’s more on this subject from Dr. Greg Gelembiuk.

From: Dr. Gregory Gelembiuk, PhD

Subject: Restrictive deadly force policies and officer safety

On the Effect of Adoption of More Restrictive Deadly Force Policies on Officer Safety

I thought I’d pass along the following empirical data. We talked about NYPD and Finland, and here’s some information on each.

The following is an excerpt from Prenzler et al (2013)

See underlined paragraph below: ——————————————–

The New York City Police Department has been the target of numerous criticisms over shootings of civilians, but it has also received praise for major reductions in the use of firearms. A 2011 article in The New York Times described a steep decline in shootings by the police in recent decades. The article noted that 2010 data revealed record lows and showed just how rare shootings have become (Goldstein, 2011,p. 30). The New York data are particularly useful because they cover four decades going back to 1971. According to   Department’s Annual Firearms Discharge Report, the current program, aimed at assessing and reducing shootings, began in 1969: 

More than forty years ago, the New York City Police Department adopted Department Order SOP [Standard Operating Procedure] 9(s.69) and began to collect in-depth documentation of discharges during hostile encounters, for the stated purpose of [increasing]the safety potential of each member of the force. The policy quickly expanded beyond police-involved combat, however, and came to include the study of all firearms discharges by police. Since the early 1970s, the NYPD has endeavored to record and evaluate every instance in which an officer discharges his or her weapon, whether the discharge occurs purposefully, accidentally, or, in rare instances, criminally (New York City Police Department, 2011, p. xi).

 Data in the annual discharge reports include the total numbers of shots fired, and resulting injuries and fatalities to citizens and officers, as well as various associated demographic data. The time-series data to 2010 show a general downward trend in total shots fired, with peaks of 2510 in 1972 and 1728 in 1995 (p. 43). In the last three years of reporting, from 2008 to 2010, the total number of shots fired averaged 343, representing an 80.1% reduction from the 1995 peak and an 86.3% reduction from the 1972 peak. Fig. 1 shows that the number of persons shot and injured by police declined by 91.8% from a peak of 221 in 1971 to an average of 18 in the last three years of data. Furthermore, the number of persons shot and killed by police declined by 88.1% from a peak of 93 in 1971 to an average of 11 in the last three years of data. 

 The discharge reports include detailed analyses of the circumstances of shootings involving civilian injuries and deaths (p. 17). In 2010, the 16 cases in which a civilian was injured included 31% in which police were fired on and 57% in which an officer or civilian was threatened with a firearm or cutting instrument. The eight fatalities involved 56% in which the officer was shot at or threatened with a firearm, 22% in which an officer was threatened with a cutting instrument and 11% in which another person was threatened with a blunt instrument.

 The declines outlined above were surpassed by trends in officer deaths and injuries (New York City Police Department, 2011, p. 41). The number of officers shot and injured peaked in 1973 at 50 and then declined by 96.8% to an average of 1.6 per year in the final three years of data (2008 to 2010). The number of officers shot and killed peaked in 1971 at 12 and then declined by 100.0% to zero in the last three years. 

 The NYPD attributes these reductions in large part to the operation of the SOP9 process, outlined above. This involves analyses of the variables and sequences of events associated with each incident, then feeding the findings into improved procedures and training. The most recent report enlarged on the process as follows:

 Four decades of annual analyses have altered the way of officers respond to, engage in, and even assess the need for firearms discharges. Information gleaned from the annual reports has saved the lives of citizens and of officers alike, and there has been Department-wide change — tactical, strategic, and cultural — with regard to how of officers use and control their firearms. The Department has made restraint the norm. 

Today, the reports serve an additional but equally important role: they are statistical engines for the development of training, the adoption of new technologies, and even the deployment of Department assets. New instructional scenarios are implemented from these reports, new hardware — from bullet-resistant vests to speed loaders to semiautomatic handguns to conducted-energy devices — is introduced. 

Tracking how, when, where, and why of officers discharge their weapons is an invaluable tool for working towards the Department’s ultimate goal of guaranteeing that, for every discharge, no option exists other than the use of a firearm (New York City Police Department, 2011, p. xi)


In the NYPD force of 49,526, there have been a few fatalities of officers shot since 2011 (2015 – 2; 2014 – 2 – shooter ostensibly seeking revenge for Eric Garner and Michael Brown; 2011 – 1).

Adoption of more restrictive deadly force policy and training did not increase officer injuries and fatalities. Indeed, there has been a marked decrease in officer injuries and fatalities.

Finland. Deadly force policy and training is very restrictive, with a per capita rate of fatal officer involved shootings 100 fold lower than the U.S.

The first officer fatality in the line of duty since 2007 occurred last month (June, 2016). An officer was shot and killed (and another was injured) in Vihti, Southern Finland, responding to a call where a 67-year-old man opened fire on his neighbor (ultimately, the shooter committed suicide). The last officer killed in Finland prior to that died in a hit and run collision in 2007 (and the last deaths prior to that were of two officers in a high-speed pursuit in 1997). From 2007 to the present, basically, 2 line of duty deaths in 9 years. Scaled to the size of the U.S. population, this would be equivalent to 13 line of duty deaths a year.

[Background information: Finnish police all carry firearms. Surveys indicate that 35% of homes in Finland have a firearm. The latest U.S. General Social Survey found that 32% of U.S. homes have a firearm. The Small Arms Survey, which is considered to generate one of more accurate estimates of per capita gun ownership in countries across the world, estimates 89 civilian firearms per 100 residents for the U.S. and 45 civilian firearms per 100 residents for Finland.]

Currently, roughly 140 line of duty deaths occur for U.S. police per year (see Officer Down page). I’ll note that this includes heart attacks (accounting for very roughly a fifth of deaths), so perhaps not fully comparable to the Finland data, but still should be mostly comparable. Highly restrictive deadly force policy is not resulting in a higher fatality rate for Finnish police.


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