West Virginia Law Review

Document Type

Student Note


In its study of crime and law enforcement in the United States, the President's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice found it "surprising and alarming that few police departments provide their officers with careful instruction on the circumstances under which the use of a firearm is permissible." This failure on the part of police administrators leaves the uninformed patrolman, charged with the day to day duty of law enforcement, subject to civil and criminal liability for the wrongful use of his weapon. It also needlessly exposed the innocent bystander to death or grievous bodily harm. To discover the extent of this problem in West Virginia, a survey was made of the four major levels of police in the state: The state police, the county sheriffs and deputies, the city police, and the constables. The police departments of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, were also consulted to obtain comparative data. The survey sought to determine what firearm policies exist and to elicit opinions on those policies. It also sought information on the need to codify such policies. Some of the areas surveyed included shooting at those fleeing from minor felonies; using warning shots; shooting at or from a moving vehicle; filing a written report when a firearm is discharged on duty; wearing of firearms off-duty; and employing a substitute for the lethal weapon. Commentators feel that by formulating and enforcing clear policies in these areas the police will avoid many tragic incidents that stifle police-community relations. The survey assumed the form of telephone interviews with various officers and chiefs in the departments. Selection of participants was made at random and attempted to secure a representative statewide geographic sample. Additionally, an effort was made to ascertain the effect of department size (in the case of county sheriffs, city police, and state police) and years of experience (in the case of constables) on the firearms policy. A total of forty agencies were interviewed. Bach representative was initially told the purpose of the interview and then was asked a series of questions designed to ascertain his department's policies on the use of firearms. When the question was avoided or misunderstood, it was paraphrased and repeated. Participants were urged to give a definite answer to questions involving personal opinion.



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