NEGLIGENT USE OF FIREARMS BY POLICE OFFICERS: LIABILITY, DEFENSES, AND, TRENDS

One of the most frequently discussed police practices is the use of deadly force by police
officers. Recent events around the nation involving the use of deadly force by law enforcement
against unarmed citizens, and other use of deadly force by law enforcement officers has again
captured the attention of the civilized world. As a society, we empower the police with the
authority to use deadly force; however, even though this authority is granted, the decision to exercise
it is so significant that an officer using deadly force can anticipate a questioning of its
appropriateness. In some cases, the police officer’s use of deadly force has been found to be
unjustified.
Police officers are expected to follow an accepted standard in the use of force.2 This
standard is particularly important since we have authorized police officers to use force in certain
situations. By the very nature of their work, police officers live with their weapons on a daily basis.
The use of firearms in the United States is an integral aspect of police work. Society expects law
enforcement personnel to use deadly force only under certain circumstances, such as to protect the
officer’s life, to defend the lives of innocent citizens, and to apprehend suspects involved in violent
felonies.3
However, events in the fairly recent past questions the appropriateness of the use of deadly
force and whether police officers are going beyond their expectation in certain circumstances.
There is a widespread perception of imprudence when police officers discharge their firearm. This
controversy can be seen when deciding whether law enforcement should be subject to personal
liability for overzealous use of their firearms.4
This article examines several aspects of police liability for negligence involving the use of
firearms. First, we discuss case law in which the officer is liable for negligence involving the use
of a firearm. Second, we review the defenses available to officers involved in a civil action for
negligent use of firearms. Finally, an analysis of the trends of officer