CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Monday, October 20, 2008

FBI: Justifiable homicides at highest in more than a decade

Foxx The number of justifiable homicides committed by police and private citizens has been rising in the past two years to their highest levels in more than a decade, reflecting a shoot-first philosophy in dealing with crime, say law enforcement analysts.

The 391 killings by police that were ruled justifiable in 2007 were the most since 1994, FBI statistics show. The 254 killings by private individuals found to be self-defense were the most since 1997.

The FBI says a homicide committed by a private citizen is justified when a person is slain during the commission of a felony, such as a burglary or robbery. Police are justified, the FBI says, when felons are killed while the officer is acting in the line of duty. Rulings on these deaths are usually made by the local police agencies involved.

Some law enforcement analysts say the numbers represent changing attitudes on the streets, where police have felt more threatened by well-armed offenders, and citizens have taken greater responsibility for their own safety.

Northeastern University criminal justice professor James Alan Fox describes an emerging "shoot-first" mentality by police and private citizens. For several years, police departments have armed their officers with higher-powered weapons to keep pace with criminal gangs. "Clearly there is a message out there that citizens may be able to defend themselves" as well, he says. [Mark Godsey]

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Part of how the government could handle this, as least when dealing with private citizens, is legislate the amount of guns or the type of guns available. However, the trouble with this is telling citizens that they won't be able to defend themselves when dealing with a home invasion, car jacking or what have you. This is a difficult matter to handle.

Posted by: JT | Oct 20, 2008 7:59:04 AM

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