– Executive Summary –

Modern-day policing in the United States is a task undertaken by various agencies across the country. From the federal level down to the local level, more than 800,000 men and women make up the country’s sworn law enforcement agents.[1] When it comes to training these officers, there is no standardized training academy or manual, and the rules by which these officers operate differ across the country. In addition to the individualized rules set forth by the agencies that employ these men and women, the rules that dictate how officers may use force, especially regarding their firearms, also vary by agency. Civilian fatalities at the hands of law enforcement in the United States average 1,000 annually.[2] In most of these incidents, the civilians involved are armed. However, when compared to other Western nations, the United States far outpaces similar democracies.[3]

To that end, this thesis seeks to identify the factors that impact law enforcement’s use of firearms in the United States. This research begins by examining the available literature for ways to change the statistics on annual police-involved fatalities. The three main avenues of thought on the subject involve enhancing police training, improving oversight bodies, and defunding or eliminating police departments. After a thorough examination of those avenues, this research explores the factors that this researcher identified as having an impact on the number of police shootings: firearm access within the United States, mental health issues, policing and race, and training and departmental policies.

Then, this thesis examines domestic police departments as case studies, in their entirety and through the lens of the identified factors. The aim of these case studies is to understand how these departments train, educate, and implement use-of-force policies with their officers. Following the analysis of domestic departments, foreign police departments from Western democracies are also examined to understand the similarities and differences between the United States and foreign nations.

After this examination, this thesis identifies what can be applied from foreign law enforcement agencies—namely training—that can be useful domestically. Due to the time constraints of basic training for American officers, sacrifices are often made relating to the content, so by extending the length of basic training across the country, departments and municipalities could augment the readiness of officers before they take to the streets.

This thesis concludes by solidifying all the lessons learned from domestic and foreign agencies into concrete steps that domestic law enforcement agencies can take to reduce the number of officer-involved shootings—while continuing to account for officer safety—including adjustments to training and preparing officers for mental health calls. Finally, the research identifies further studies that could be undertaken to examine whether the ideas presented have their desired effect and outlines what can be done in the future.

[1] “Law Enforcement Facts,” National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, accessed October 1, 2020, https://nleomf.org/facts-figures/law-enforcement-facts.

[2] Rob Picheta and Henrik Pettersson, “The US Shoots, Kills and Imprisons More People than Other Developed Countries. Here’s the Data,” CNN, June 8, 2020, https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/08/us/us-police-floyd-protests-country-comparisons-intl/index.html.

[3] Picheta and Pettersson.

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