Questions, preconceptions and reactions: police use of lethal force in Britain

Jo Barton, Aldert Vrij, Ray Bull

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The participants in the first study were 38 Authorized Firearms Officers (AFOs) with the mean length of police service being 12 years. The stimulus material was generated by pre-pared compact disk simulations on the Firearms Training System (FATS). This system presents very realistic visual and acoustic fast-moving scenarios. Officers respond to two scenarios displayed on a large screen onto which life-size images are projected in color with an accompanying soundtrack. The system allows officers to use regular service weapons fitted with a laser-emitting device. Reaction times and accuracy of marksmanship are fed back and can be assessed via computer. Results showed that the most frequently requested information concerned the suspect’s location, movements, and description; the support available; the nature of the location; and the weapon the suspect was carrying. The study revealed that 47 percent of police officers shot the suspect when it was difficult to justify shooting. The factors that may have contributed to the shootings include an ambiguous scenario; the fact that FATS is not real life; and the officers had to act alone. The second study determined whether police officers that had no knowledge of the first study believed that officers that asked several questions about the weapon had created a preconceived idea that the suspect would pose a direct threat. Six transcripts where officers had either shot the suspect or had shown restraint were reproduced for use in this study. These results showed that transcripts where officers asked more questions about the weapon the suspect was thought to be carrying resulted in the independent officers believing that the suspect was likely to use his weapon against the officers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)127-136
JournalInternational Journal of Police Science & Management
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2002


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