What Were the Rules?
By Sabrina Shankman
Law & Disorder reveals that in the midst of post-Katrina chaos, law-enforcement commanders issued orders to ignore long-established rules governing the use of deadly force. Here's a closer look at what the rules actually say.
Martial law is not in the U.S. Constitution; however 18 state constitutions allow for it. But the rules -- and the meaning of that declaration -- differ greatly in each state. In general, martial law revolves around the concept of the military taking over governing authority in a region.
Louisiana's constitution contains no statute for martial law, but there is a provision that allows the governor to call in the armed forces to "preserve law and order, to suppress insurrection, to repel invasion, or in other times of emergency."
Use of Force
The New Orleans Police Department regulates use of force -- including use of deadly force -- according to state law. There are three scenarios in which an officer can use deadly force:
- In self-defense, if he reasonably believes he is in imminent danger;
- To prevent a violent or forcible felony involving great bodily harm, which cannot be stopped by any other means than deadly force;
- To protect another person who faces an imminent threat.
There are a few things that the NOPD's rules specify that officers can't do -- one is to shoot at felons who are fleeing a scene, and the other is to fire a warning shot.
Shoot to Kill
The term "shoot to kill" is one that exists more in movies and the media than in modern policing. Deadly force, as defined by the New Orleans Police Department's use of force regulation, includes the discharging of a firearm, "even if there is no intent to kill or injure." Technically, because every time an officer fires his weapon it is to neutralize a threat in the most effective way possible, officers are trained to always shoot to kill. The term, then, is inherently redundant.
Sabrina Shankman is the associate producer on Law & Disorder. She has reported for ProPublica, The Wall Street Journal and the Associated Press.