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NCJRS Abstract

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NCJ Number: 76408 Find in a Library
Title: Philadelphia - 'When in Doubt, Don't Shoot'
Journal: Police Magazine  Volume:4  Issue:2  Dated:(March 1981)  Pages:12-15
Author(s): B Cory
Date Published: 1981
Page Count: 4
Format: Article
Language: English
Country: United States of America
Annotation: A history of Philadelphia's first written deadly force policy for police officers is presented; the police-community conflicts and racial tensions underlying the decision to adopt written policy are described.
Abstract: According to a Justice Department study of the years 1975 through 1978, Philadelphia police officers used deadly force against unarmed and fleeing suspects 34 times more often than New York City police. However, in 1979 residents selected a new mayor, and a new police commissioner was appointed. The commissioner described his job as turning the department around from a semimilitary type of crime fighting organization into an organization that serves the community. His most sweeping and controversial change was the new, more restrictive policy on deadly force; and with it, Philadelphia became the last of the urban police departments to adopt such a policy. Before the new order, officers were told to follow the State statute on deadly force, which permits officers to fire in defense of life and in apprehending suspects believed to have committed or attempted 'forcible' felonies. Neither the legislature nor the courts have ever defined these felonies. The new policy defines them as murder, involuntary manslaughter, rape, robbery, kidnapping, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, arson, burglary of a private residence, and aggravated assault which causes serious bodily injury. In the latitude it gives officers to fire on fleeing burglars, the new policy is far less restrictive than orders in force in many other police departments. However, the commissioner has admonished officers not to shoot in cases involving doubt. Other changes included a shift in responsibility for investigating police shootings from the homicide division to the internal affairs bureau and the establishment of a firearms review board for disciplinary recommendations concerning officers involved in such shootings. For the first 5 months since the changes, police killed 6 people and wounded 12 others, compared with 8 killed and 24 wounded for the same period in the previous year. Past and current resistance to the reforms is discussed. A reference list is not provided.
Index Term(s): Lawful use of force; On-duty offenses; Pennsylvania; Police attitudes; Police community relations; Police discretion; Police reform; Police use of deadly force; Police weapons use; Public Attitudes/Opinion
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