Recently, in the Miami area hijackers stole a UPS delivery truck, took the driver hostage, and engaged police in a high-speed chase. The incident ended tragically in a shoot-out with police that resulted in the hostage and an innocent motorist dead as well as the suspected hijackers. All appeared to have died as a result of law enforcement fire. Law enforcement stated that the many officers involved were “forced to shoot.” Living in south Florida means that we often see news reports in which the police shoot someone and claim that the involved officers “were forced to fire.” What does that phase mean? Why are the police in Miami Dade County forced to shoot so often when their counterparts around the country employ lethal force so much less frequently?
First, all police departments should have in place regulations establishing the circumstances under which the use of deadly force is authorized. As a young prosecutor in New York City, I learned that the New York City Police Department guidelines required that an officer or an innocent member of the public be in imminent danger of serious harm before officers were permitted to fire their weapons. As applied, these regulations resulted in very few shootings by the New York City Police Department. Moreover, this lack of lethal force by the police, to which I refer, occurred in the early 1980’s, a period of high crime and homicide rates. Thus, there were many encounters between police officers and criminal suspects.
It appears that the engagement policies in south Florida authorizing use of deadly force by law enforcement are either significantlylaxer than those in other parts of the country or are interpreted in a much broader manner. It is a very positive development that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating the UPS shoot out. Hopefully, the investigation will determine whether the guidelines are too lenient and/or whether their interpretation needs to be reassessed.