Basic Guidelines

The UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials provides for various guidelines regarding use of force. Each country should develop a range of means as broad as possible to allow differentiated use of force. Countries should also equip law enforcement officials with various types of weapons and ammunition for use in different circumstances. Further, they should equip law enforcement officials with self-defensive equipment to prevent the need to use weapons of any kind. Such equpiment includes shields, helmets, bullet-proof vests and bullet-proof means of transportation. Law enforcement officers should, as far as possible, apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force and firearms.

As a rule, law enforcement officers should not use firearms against persons. The only exception is use of firearms in self-defence or defence of others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury. Where a law enforcement officer causes injury or death by the use of force and firearms, he should report the incident promptly. Law enforcement agencies should criminalize and punish arbitrary or abusive use of force and firearms.

Actions Upon Use of Force and Firearms

Whenever the lawful use of force and firearms is unavoidable, law enforcement officials should exercise restraint. The officer should act in proportion to the seriousness of the offence and the legitimate objective he wishes to achieved. They should also minimize damage and injury, and respect and preserve human life. Law enforcement officers should also ensure that injured or affected persons receive assistance and medical aid at the earliest possible moment. Further, they should ensure that relatives or close friends of the injured or affected person are notified at the earliest possible moment.

Guidelines on Use of Firearms

Law enforcement agencies should develop guidelines use of firearms. These guidelines should specify the circumstances under which law enforcement officials can carry firearms.  The guidelines should also prescribe the types of firearms and ammunition permitted. Further, the guidelines should ensure that officers use firearms only in appropriate circumstances. Officers should only use firearms in a manner likely to decrease the risk of unnecessary harm. The guidelines should prohibit the use of those firearms and ammunition that cause unwarranted injury or present an unwarranted risk.

Law enforcemnt agencies should also ensure that the guidelines regulate the control, storage and issuing of firearms. Control should also extend to procedures for accountability for the firearms and ammunition issued to officers. The guidelines should require that officers provide warnings, if appropriate, when they are about to discharge firearms. Further, the guidelines should provide for a system of reporting whenever law enforcement officials use firearms in the performance of their duty.

Accountability for Use of Force and Firearms

Officers shall report all incidents of the use of force or firearms. Superior officials must review these reports.  It is the superior officials who should be responsible for the actions of officers under their command. This is especially true if the superior official knew or should have known of abuses but failed to take concrete action. Further, the law or internal regulations of agencies should offer immunity to officers who refuse unlawful superior orders. The law should not excuse officers who commit abuses on the grounds that they were following superior orders.

Permissible Circumstances for the Use of Firearms

Law enforcement officers should use firearms only in extreme circumstances. These circumstances include:

  • Self-defence or defence of others against imminent threat of death or serious injury.
  • To prevent a particularly serious crime that involves a grave threat to life.
  • To arrest or prevent the escape of a person posing such a threat and who is resisting efforts to stop the threat.
  • Only when less extreme measures are insufficient.
  • Only when strictly unavoidable in order to protect human life.
Procedures for the Use of Firearms

The officer using firearms should identify himself as a law enforcement officer. He should then give a clear warning that he is about to discharge a firearm. After giving the warning, the officer should allow adequate time for the public to obey the warning. However, this is not be required if the delay would result in death or serious injury to the officer or others. It is also not required if it is clearly pointless or inappropriate in the circumstances.

After the use of firearms, medical aid should be rendered to all injured persons. The relatives or friends of those affected should be notified. The law enforcement agency should allow investigations into the incident where requested or required. Finally, the law enforcemenbt officer who used the firearm should provide a full and detailed report of the incident.