Masters Thesis

Suspect weapon and judgment of guilt in officer-involved shootings

The subject of the present research is public criticism of police conduct and professionalism, as well as public perception of an officer’s guilt in shooting situations. The hypothesis driving this research is that people will be more critical of a police officer’s actions when an officer shoots and kills a suspect who pulls out a cellphone, than when an officer shoots and kills a suspect who pulls out a gun. Participants from California State University, Fresno Department of Psychology’s subject pool were asked to read a scenario and complete a Likert scale questionnaire. It was found that participants rated the officer at a higher level of guilt in shooting the suspect when the suspect was holding a cell phone than a gun. Participants who were provided gun conditions were significantly less critical of the officer’s actions than those with a cell phone condition. Applying the results to possible responses potential jurors may make in similar situations of officer involved shootings, it can be seen that though feature-intensive considerations can be made in regard to the situation, the judgment of officer guilt is still hard to determine. This study solely considered the factor of suspect weapon choice, and did not include other influential factors. There is a tremendous amount of research required in the future and with the growing public scrutiny on officer involved shootings it is important to continue the research on this important problem.

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