Florida Fails to Meet International Standards on Police Shootings: Report

Florida is one of 13 states that fail to meet the US constitutional standards on the use of lethal force by law enforcement officers, according to a report by Amnesty International.

The report, Deadly Force: Police Use of Lethal Force in the United States, blasted all 50 states in the country for not meeting international standards of police force, as set by the United Nations Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials.

“All 50 states and D.C. fail to comply with international standards on the use of lethal force by law enforcement officers, which require that lethal force should only be used as a last resort when strictly necessary to protect themselves or others against imminent threat of death or serious injury,” says the report.

The report also says no state in the country has a law that requires lethal force be used only “as a last resort” after less lethal options are exhausted or a law that requires there be an imminent threat before an officer fires.

But some states have even fewer conditions on police shootings. Florida is among 13 states lacking laws that comply with the lower standards set by U.S. constitutional law as determined by Tennessee v. Garner, the 1985 case in which it was ruled unconstitutional for a law enforcement officer to shoot a fleeing felon unless “the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.”

The other states in this group are Alabama; California; Delaware; Mississippi; Missouri; Montana; New Jersey; New York; Oregon; Rhode Island; South Dakota; and Vermont.

Amnesty says that one of the major problems with U.S. laws surrounding police shootings is that many states, including Florida, have laws on the books that allow an officer to pursue an arrest of a resisting subject in any circumstance, which escalates the potential harm that can be caused for both the suspect and the officer. Amnesty basically says that using physical force for petty crimes isn't worth the risk.

"This bears a considerable risk of officers seeking to pursue their law enforcement objective at any cost, without balancing whether the harm they might cause
is indeed justified by the objective they want to achieve," says the report. 

Florida does fare better than most states in at least one category: Requiring officers to give a verbal warning before lethal force can be used. Florida is among only eight states that have such a requirement (when possible, of course) on the books. The other seven are: Connecticut; Indiana; Nevada; New Mexico; Tennessee; Utah and Washington. 

Maria Haberfeld, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City and a former Israeli police officer, said in an interview last year that part of the problem with the use of lethal force is the lack of training in U.S. police departments, which she considers inadequate because departments prefer to spend money on equipment than hours of training.

This is not something that we should save money on, but to me, that's exactly what we're doing," Haberfeld told the American Prospect. "We are saving money on police training, saying that it's very expensive to have longer training. And I think it's irresponsible in a democratic society to say that a profession that has the authority to use deadly force, we just should shorten the training because a longer training is too expensive. Basically, what we're doing is putting a dollar sign on people's lives, both police officers and members of the public."

Despite Amnesty's criticism of U.S. police departments failing to meet international standards on lethal force, U.S. police officers train cops in other countries on a regular basis through the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, a State Department-funded program.  Last month, PBSO sent two deputies to Belize to train officers there as part of a U.S. State Department program. 

Just a few weeks before PBSO deputies were giving advice on policing in Belize, a joint investigation by the Palm Beach Post and WPTV found that since 2000, PBSO deputies have shot and killed 45 people and wounded 35 others. One out of every four people shot were unarmed. 

PBSO deputies have also offered training and weapons to Haitian police officers. In February, we reported that PBSO donated riot gear to Haitian police officers, which then used tear gas on protesters unhappy with the current administration there. 

You can read the entire Amnesty report below:

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Ray Downs
Contact: Ray Downs