Police-Generated Killings: The Gap between Ethics and Law

<jats:p> This article offers a normative analysis of some of the most controversial incidents involving police—what I call police-generated killings. In these cases, bad police tactics create a situation where deadly force becomes necessary, becomes perceived as necessary, or occurs unintentionally. Police deserve blame for such killings because they choose tactics that unnecessarily raise the risk of deadly force, thus violating their obligation to prioritize the protection of life. Since current law in the United States fails to ban many bad tactics, police-generated killings often are treated as “lawful but awful.” To address these killings, some call on changes to departmental policies or voluntary reparations by local governments, yet such measures leave in place a troubling gap between ethics and law. I argue that police-generated killings merit legal sanctions by appealing to a relevant analogy: self-generated self-defense, where the person who engages in self-defense started the trouble. The persistent lack of accountability for police-generated killings threatens life, police legitimacy, and trust in democratic institutions. The article closes by identifying tools in law and policy to address this challenge. /jats:p

Jones, Police-Generated Killings: The Gap between Ethics and Law, 'Political Research Quarterly' (, ) pp. 106591292110095. Copyright © 2021. DOI: 10.1177/10659129211009596. Users who receive access to an article through a repository are reminded that the article is protected by copyright and reuse is restricted to non-commercial and no derivative uses. Users may also download and save a local copy of an article accessed in an institutional repository for the user's personal reference. For permission to reuse an article, please follow our Process for Requesting Permission.



Work Title Police-Generated Killings: The Gap between Ethics and Law
Open Access
  1. Ben Jones
License CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 (Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives)
Work Type Article
  1. SAGE Publications
Publication Date May 3, 2021
Publisher Identifier (DOI)
  1. 10.1177/10659129211009596
  1. Political Research Quarterly
Deposited January 13, 2022




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