Eighteen months after the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, a top police research organization has issued 30 guiding principles on the use of deadly force by officers. Police forces should embrace and incorporate these principles as the modern way to police our streets.

Brown’s killing, and the protests and civil disorder that followed, marked the beginning of an intense, ongoing national debate over police use of force. Subsequent furor over high-profile killings in New York, Cleveland, Baltimore, South Carolina, Chicago and other jurisdictions underscored how widespread the problem is. Yet the FBI, to its embarrassment, doesn’t keep good records on killings by police. That’s beginning to change.

Media organizations began tracking the incidents themselves through media reports and online searches. The Washington Post’s accounting for 2015: 987. The Guardian’s: 1,134.

About 200 police chiefs and other law enforcement experts met in Rosslyn, Virginia, on Jan. 29, where Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, presented his group’s “Taking Police to a Higher Standard: 30 Guiding Principles.” In 300 or so of the killings tracked by The Post in 2015, the suspect was not armed with a gun. Wexler suggests there are lessons to be learned from those 300 cases.

The principles emphasize two main points: Lethal force must be the option of last resort. Protecting the sanctity of human life should be at the heart of every police force’s mission.

Wexler also urged police agencies to hold themselves to a standard higher than the Supreme Court’s “objectively reasonable” ruling, which holds that officers are justified in taking a life if another officer, faced with a similar set of circumstances, could reasonably be expected to make the same decision.

It’s why officers often cite the fear for their own lives as the basis for shooting suspects, even unarmed ones.


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