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When should police use deadly force?

BY Ruth Tam and Hari Sreenivasan  August 22, 2014 at 4:57 PM EST

Even with two investigations underway regarding Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Mo., questions raised during two weeks of riots over the lethal use of police force are unlikely to fade.

Did Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot Brown, abuse his power or use reasonable force? Was his action justified? Was the subsequent police response to protests in Ferguson appropriate or unnecessary?

According to Tracie Keesee, a 25-year veteran with the Denver Police Department where she is currently the Deputy Director of the Colorado Information Analysis Center, there is no universal definition of reasonable response because “reasonableness is up to the officer.”

As a recruiter herself, Keesee told PBS NewsHour Weekend anchor Hari Sreenivasan that officers undergo “scenario based training” that walk them through different circumstances.

“When an officer engages in any level of force… it’s going to depend on that situation and the officer’s perspective of what’s happening,” she said.

“Ideally, a really well-trained officer would assess the situation and make these decisions using their training. But these kinds of incidents happen in seconds.”

Margaret Huang, Deputy Executive Director of Campaigns and Programs at Amnesty International USA, was part of her organization’s first delegation to a U.S. city where they supported observers and organizers during the Ferguson protests.

The police’s reaction” might have been an overreaction,” Huang told the PBS NewsHour. “It may have actually been a violation of international standards for appropriate police response.”

Sreenivasan and Huang discussed the tactics deployed by the police in Ferguson, including rubber bullets and tear gas.

“If your purpose is to disperse people, tear gas is not a great tool for that,” Huang said. “It can end up causing all sorts of injuries. And it’s not clear that the police felt threatened in a way that made the tear gas more obvious as a response to the situation.”

“It’s worth noting that tear gas is actually a weapon that’s not allowed in use in warfare,” Huang said, “because it can be indiscriminate in who it targets. So the fact that police agencies in this country use it for crowd dispearsal raises huge concerns about whether that’s a useful or appropriate response.”

The choice of weapons and the training required for police is something that “varies from department to department” said Keesee.

This discrepancy is part of the discussion both Keesee and Huang hope to have “post-Ferguson.”