Quora: How and When Are Police Trained to Use Force?

A 30-year-old black woman, Charleena Lyles, is dead after being shot and killed by police officers in Seattle
A 30-year-old black woman, Charleena Lyles, is dead after being shot and killed by police officers in Seattle on June 18. Gaston De Cardenas/REUTERS

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Answer from Jason Wells, Former Federal Agent:

One of the first things that law enforcement officers are taught (or should be taught) is "the use of force". Most law enforcement agencies have similar policies for using the use of force. When I first joined the Secret Service, the use of force policy was something to the effect of "+1", meaning that agents were expected to ramp up one level on their paradigm of force…. The paradigm was, literally, a chart outlining when certain counter-actions were authorized.

Needless to say, this has gone away. It became unrealistic to expect agents to memorize a chart and reference it when they suddenly found themselves in a life-threatening situation.

Nowadays, most law enforcement agencies put the onus of responsibility on the officer to make the sensible decision when using force.

But back to the original question: Why do officers always go for the kill?

To be frank: When it comes to the use of force, an officer using his/her handgun is the highest level on a use of force policy; officers have drawn their firearm and fired because the situation has required a deadly force response.

I know that many people disagree with this, especially with the media spin of the day and public outcry with "wrongful death shootings" and police officers exonerated for shooting others. I respect that.

But what I also know is this: Police officers are authorized to administer deadly force when the situation calls for it, and officers are absolutely supported by the law as it pertains to the totality of the circumstance. For example, if an officer gets a call from dispatch, and the dispatcher informs the officer that the calls coming in from the public are that an individual is waving a gun around and shooting at people, then the officer has that information in his/her mind when he/she arrives. Is the officer allowed to walk in and just shoot a suspect? No, but they are authorized to be on guard, draw their firearm and protect themselves… because the information that they have at that moment is that there is a deadly force situation happening. When they have a split second to react to something in a person's hand, and that person is not responding to the officer's orders to drop everything and get on the ground… well…

Let this be a lesson to parents: Teach your kids not to back talk to anyone, especially cops. Teach them instead to do what an officer says without question.

Lastly, shooting someone in the leg is not a realistic shot. Center mass is the best way to incapacitate a suspect and still have the best chance at providing them medical treatment and keeping them alive. This may be hard to believe to some: Police officers don't like killing anyone… but they don't like dying either.

Are police not trained to shoot in the leg? Why do they always go for the kill? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. More questions:

Quora: How and When Are Police Trained to Use Force? | Opinion