Local News

Police Must Make Split-Second Decision On Use Of Deadly Force

Posted January 6, 2003

— In the last month, police officers in the Triangle area have shot and wounded or killed suspects five times. In December, three shootings occurred about a week apart in St. Pauls, Rocky Mount and Franklinton. So far this month, there has been a police shooting in Sanford and one this past weekend in Durham. The incidents raise the question of when do officers decide to shoot?

Police officers said they often make a split-second decision when they shoot a suspect. To them, it is either kill or be killed.

"One thing people have to understand is that police officers don't wake up and say, 'I'm going to shoot somebody today.' That's the worst thing in the world that we even have to imagine," said Sgt. J.W. Mitchell, of the Franklinton Police Department.

Just two days after Christmas, Franklinton Police Officer Joseph Amos

shot and killed

Bobby Guy on his front porch. Amos said Guy was intoxicated and threatening him with a shotgun.

"Officer Amos loves his job. He loves helping people. He wouldn't hurt anyone without justification," Mitchell said.

However, Guy's family and some neighbors are concerned that police acted rashly.

"I think he could have shot him in his hands, in his legs, anywhere but right in the chest like that and completely kill him," neighbor Annie Laura Kearney said.

Raleigh Police Department attorney Dawn Bryant, who teaches officers a course on when and how to use deadly force, said an officer can use deadly force to protect his life or the life of another.

"They are trained to shoot at the biggest part of the body you can see, which is generally called center mass. A wounded person can kill you. You're shooting to stop the threat," she said.

Police said if they do not shoot, the call will likely go out as "officer down..."

In most cases, the officer is taken off the street and put on administrative duties. The state Bureau of Investigation is usually called to investigate. Since July 1996, they have investigated more than 200 police shootings.


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