Are Police ‘Warning Shots’ Advisable? Chiefs Disagree

A new policy approved recently by a coalition of law enforcement groups endorses the use of warning shots by police to de-escalate potentially deadly confrontations. The controversial issue broke into the open this week during a national meeting of police executives in Philadelphia. “I think it’s a stupid idea,” said one attendee.

A new policy endorsing the use of warning shots by police to de-escalate potentially deadly confrontations is driving a rift among some law enforcement leaders who believe the practice only heightens risk and should be abandoned, reports USA Today. The controversy broke into the open during a gathering of the nation’s police chiefs this week in Philadelphia where some officials called for removing the provision allowing for warning shots contained in the National Consensus Policy on Use of Force. The policy paper was approved earlier this month by a coalition of police groups, including the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the largest society of top law enforcement officials in the country.

“I’ll be real candid: I think it’s a stupid idea,” said James Varrone, assistant police chief in Wilmington, N.C., who first raised the matter Sunday at a law enforcement town hall event staged to coincide with the IACP conference. “I thought the idea of warning shots and the dangers posed by such a policy went away decades ago.” Most police executives seemed to agree with Varrone. Terrence Cunningham, the IACP’s deputy executive director, acknowledged the charged nature of the provision but believed it should be included “for the most extreme situations.” Jim Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, another of 11 law enforcement groups that collaborated on the policy, said the policy was promulgated as law enforcement has sought ways to avoid fatal encounters. He said, “We were responding to the growing drumbeat about the use of force around the country.”