Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy


Criminology and Criminal Justice

Date of Defense


Graduate Advisor

David A. Klinger, PhD


Alpert, Geoffrey

Carbone-Lopez, Kristin

Esbensen, Finn-Aage


How police officers exercise their unique power to use deadly force continues to be a topic of interest among academics and, due to recent events, has moved to the forefront of public policy concerns. A number of scholars have proposed theories as to how police officers make the decision to use deadly force, but arguably the most comprehensive deadly force decision-making framework was put forth by Arnold Binder and Peter Scharf three and a half decades ago (1980; Scharf and Binder, 1983). They posit that officers’ decision-making processes during an encounter that either includes police use of deadly force, or could have reasonably included police use of deadly force but did not, can be broken down into a four-phase model and that decisions made by a police officer during prior phases of the encounter have bearing on the officer’s final decision regarding whether to use deadly force. Previous work has referenced and assessed this framework (Scharf and Binder, 1983; Fridell and Binder, 1992), but scholars have yet to study decision-making processes during incidents in which multiple officers are involved, but only some chose to discharge their weapon. Using qualitative data collected during interviews with police officers across the United States who were involved in incidents in which at least one officer discharged his or her firearm and at least one officer did not, this study assessed the extent to which the Binder and Scharf deadly force decision-making framework applied to officers’ decision-making processes in events where only some officers present chose to shoot. By focusing on the decision-making processes of police officers participating in the same incident, the findings from this study shed light on reasons why, given the same situation, some officers decided to use deadly force against citizens, while other officers choose to hold fire. In addition, the way in which the data were collected provided an opportunity to assess whether and how individual officers’ decision-making processes were impacted by the presence and decisions made by other officers involved in the same incident.