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Shooting and Holding Fire in Police Work: Insights From a Study Informed by the Binder and Scharf Model of Deadly Force Decision-Making

NCJ Number
Homicide Studies Volume: 27 Issue: 1 Dated: 2023 Pages: 34-54
Date Published
21 pages

This paper examines the decision-making process behind police officers’ decisions to either shoot or hold fire in high-risk police-citizen encounters.


How police officers exercise their unique power to use deadly force continues to be a topic of interest among academics and has recently become arguably the most visible public policy issue related to the criminal justice system in the United States. Academic interest in officers’ use of deadly force includes attention to how officers make the decision to discharge their firearms during encounters with citizens. Binder and Scharf posited that actions and decisions made by officers early in a high-risk police-citizen encounter can impact their decision to use deadly force at the conclusion of the encounter. This decision-making model, however, has been subject to very little empirical scrutiny in the decades since it was proposed. To bring their comprehensive framework back to the forefront and provide additional empirical assessment, the authors used the Binder and Scharf model as a framework to examine 82 officers’ decisions to shoot or hold fire in incidents that involved multiple officers who ultimately made different decisions regarding lethal force. Results from the qualitative analysis suggest that the presence and actions of other officers on scene can have a notable impact on officers’ decision-making during a high-risk police-citizen encounter. Furthermore, findings from this study extend the Binder-Scharf model by highlighting the role of conscious and unconscious decision-making and the impact of social roles on officers’ choices during an officer-involved shooting. Publisher Abstract Provided

Date Published: January 1, 2023