Last week, two Los Angeles police officers confronted an armed man after a dispute at a state employment office. The Los Angeles Times describes what went through the officers’ minds as they had three seconds to decide whether or not to shoot. LAPD officers may shoot people to protect themselves or others from death or serious injury. While acknowledging there may be little time for “meditation or reflection,” the department’s manual says officers should be guided by “a reverence of the value of human life” and use the minimum force necessary.
Officers kill people at far lower per capita rates today than they did in the 1970s. U.S. Justice Department statistics say that the 370 people killed nationwide by law enforcement in 2001 – the last year for which numbers are available – represented about 2% of all homicide victims in the United States.
Police work is safer than it once was, the Justice Department reports, and is not among the nation’s top-10 list of most dangerous jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But police officers remain more than three times as likely as the average U.S. worker to die on the job. Five LAPD officers have died from gunshots in the last 10 years. In 2002, 56 officers were slain nationwide.