Mook: Alright. Stay where you are and we'll shoot you!
Krillin: Don't you mean or we'll shoot you'?
: We know what we said!
The phrase "Stop Or I'll Shoot" embodies a common idea, popularized in fiction, that a police officer need only identify himself to a criminal suspect as an officer of the law, and that after this, if the suspect resists the officer, the officer is justified in containing the situation by any means he sees fit, up to and including deadly force.
This idea is flawed. In real life, police officers are required to use a reasonable amount of force, ideally the minimum necessary to contain a situation; they can't just begin shooting or swinging their nightsticks willy-nilly whenever a perp runs or tells them off, or even if a suspect fights back. Many, many
lawsuits against police departments are grounded on the alleged use of "excessive force" and "Police Brutality
". Indeed, since 1985, police are not allowed to shoot a fleeing suspect unless he or she can be shown to pose a threat of death or dangerous injury to others.
However, in Hollywood, the instant a person defies a police officer, he automatically forfeits any protection against the Long Arm. As mentioned, this can include shooting him (typically, but not always, in the leg
). This is the reason Suicide by Cop
works so well in fiction (although, sadly, this has been used in real life as well).
Note that the police officer is justified in lethal force in some situations, as when a reasonably prudent person would conclude it was needed to save someone's life. So someone running away would not rise to this level, but someone driving away, and appearing to be ready to plow down someone in the street, would.
This is drifting toward Discredited Trope
, as many current Police Procedurals
depict cops using more realistic levels of force when needed; but it is by no means dead. Most often applied to Anti Heroes
, whose willful use of excessive force is commonly met with disapproval from their peers or superiors, but it generally would not
apply to military forces, a fascist state or other totalitarian regime, or to the Big Bad
and his Mooks, as these would be expected
to more freely employ deadly force. Also, given the modern-day threat of terrorist attacks and suicide bombers, various military forces may interpret 'continuing to move towards them without stopping when demanded to' as a potentially lethal threat all by itself, especially in high-security facilities or areas at war, such as Iraq. So when the Marine gate guard says "Halt or I will fire!", it is very likely that he means exactly
what he just said.
Occasionally used to demonstrate the badass level of whatever the cops are facing down when the villain does not stop and the cops do indeed shoot, only for it to have negligible effect
This trope is a form of Artistic License – Law
. Very often occurs together with mild variants of Artistic License – Gun Safety
(i.e. nobody gets hurt). See also Suicide by Cop
, Put Down Your Gun and Step Away
. If the target calls their bluff, see You Wouldn't Shoot Me
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Anime And Manga
- Subverted in Higurashi: When They Cry. After a scuffle with some child-nappers, Detective Oishi trains a gun on them as they're running away. He doesn't shoot them though, and when asked why he says something along the lines of "I can't shoot an unarmed man in the back while he runs away!"
- The suspects even go so far as to pull out their guns and drop them on the ground before running. Noting this Oishi remarks they were probably professionals.
- Ouka does this in Kyouran Kazoku Nikki when someone reveals they were using Mind Control on him.
- In the first issue of Shade, the Changing Man, the cops don't even finish the sentence when they see Roger (Kathy's black boyfriend who she brought to the Deep South to met her parents) wrestling with Trent (white serial killer who had just knifed Kathy's parents to death) on the lawn; they shoot Roger. They were both covered in the same blood during the struggle, though Trent was more blood-splattered for good reason. Trent lampshades the injustice by mockingly complaining about the discrimination shown against himself.
- In a later issue, two cops question Shade while he's carting the bodies of a pair of hookers out of Times Square in a steamer trunk. The bodies turn out to be mannequins, but the cops find severed human fingers among the parts. When Shade tries to flee, they open fire before they've finished yelling the trope.
- This phrase is repeated verbatim along with countless other deliberately cliche phrases in an issue of Too Much Coffee Man where he battles a supervillain with the actual name of Cliche.
- Astérix runs into the Ancient Rome version when a centurion recognizes him as a wanted man and threatens, "Stop or I will put my pilum through your sternum!"
- Parodied in the largely forgettable Sylvester Stallone action-comedy Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot. (But not so forgettable here.)
- An egregious example occurs in The Godfather Part II. Michael Corleone has rival Hyman Roth assassinated at the airport. The assassin shoots Roth point-blank and is in turn shot in the back by police as he runs away. In a crowded airport. In full view of a dozen reporters with cameras.
- Given the time in which the film is set, they probably were justified. A lot of states had "fleeing felon" laws justifying lethal force.
- All the same, those police departments probably had rules against shooting where it was likely to cause additional harm to bystanders.
- Hand-Waved Reversal: James Bond (and various imitators) is explicitly stated to have a "License To Kill".
- The "00" (double 0) series of agents have a license to kill because they're government assassins. That don't get to kill at random any more than the headsman of old could slaughter innocents. Instead, they're the ones called on when their political masters decide someone needs to die. The "license to kill" refers to having the prerogative to kill people other than his target in the midst of a mission.
- The questionable real-world value of this kind of approach is pointed out in the Daniel Craig version of Casino Royale; Bond's actions in pursuit of the bomb-maker are action-movie standard, but his boss frostily points out that Bond has caused a public diplomatic incident in order to kill someone who was just a hired gun, and that their opponent will now just hire another one.
- Subverted in Octopussy. When General Orlov chases the train over the inner-German border on foot, one of the GDR border guards orders him to stop via megaphone. When he doesn't comply, another guard with an AK-47 immediately shoots him (before being motioned to stop by Gogol). This policy was infamously Truth in Television, by the way; the border was called the 'death strip' for a reason.
- Subverted in Reign Over Me; a police officer threatens to shoot Adam Sandler's character (who's brandishing an unloaded revolver in the middle of the street), but it's only to distract him while his partner sneaks up from behind.
- Subverted in New Jack City when the hero cop chases a young criminal through an extended Chase Scene and the cop never draws his gun. However, when the crook suddenly draws a gun, that is when the cop draws his own and shoots him down.
- Parodied in RoboCop (1987). During a demonstration of the ED-209 law enforcement mecha, a guy is asked to point a weapon at ED. He does, and ED orders him to drop his weapon and surrender, or it will count down from 10 and shoot the guy. The guy complies, drops his weapon, and surrenders. ED continues counting down to 0 and shoots the guy anyway.
- It's a parody because the robot is Immune to Bullets. Pointing a gun at a cop is a very good way to get yourself shot by a cop.
- The French Connection. 'Popeye' Doyle guns down the EL assassin as he turns to flee, despite the fact that a) he's now unarmed, and b) Popeye couldn't have been sure the man was the same guy who'd taken a shot at him earlier, as there was little opportunity to get a clear look at his face.
- Margie captures Gaer Grimsrud by shooting him in the leg while he's fleeing from her. He had just thrown a heavy block of wood at her head, so it could be argued she was at least justified in pulling her gun to respond to assault with a weapon. Grimsrud's lawyer'll still have his work cut out for him at trial, though.... Then again she caught him feeding a body to a woodchipper, so she could argue he was a threat to the general public.
- The first Blade film takes this to particular extremes. A group of police officers shout "Freeze!" at Blade and then open fire on him before he has even moved, and a later group continues shooting at him with barely any warning (even bringing out an automatic rifle) while he is carrying a civilian. It's just about possible that these were police who were in the pocket of vampires, or that they recognised Blade as a wanted and dangerous criminal, but it is still a stretch.
- The Amazing Spider-Man. Cops are very aggressive in this film and open fire on Spider-Man twice onscreen. The first time he was doing nothing but talking to the cop, and the cop almost accidentally killed the man Spider-Man had webbed up.
- It could be assumed that the police officer was assuming Spiderman's webslingers were deadly weapons, and so therefore he felt justified in brandishing a weapon
- In the original The Matrix, just before the dramatic lobby shootout, the hordes of military Mooks position themselves behind columns with dramatic gun cocking. The head Mook then yells "Freeze!".
- That was actually completely justified as Neo and Trinity, who were still holding their weapons and walking forward, had already murdered the first wave of guards. In fact, the heavily armed cops should probably be commended for still trying to resolve the situation without further bloodshed.
- Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. British spy Jim Prideaux realises he's under surveillance and starts walking away. A Hungarian secret service agent races into the street, yelling for him to stop and firing a warning shot (which ends up in the head of an Innocent Bystander). The other secret police agents start shouting at him to calm down, as the alley is already blocked off by the secret police, but the man puts a second bullet into Jim's back, much to the KGB's fury as they wanted him alive.
- Played for Laughs in Adele Hasn't Had Her Dinner Yet. Nick Carter, an American private eye investigating in Prague, but cooperating with a local police commissioner, uses this phrase twice when he's chasing a suspect. The suspect is at that point confirmed to be helping The Gardener, who is a mysterious criminal master mind, responsible for the disappearance Nick is investigating and they know they plan a murder. While going after him, he accidentally meets his Love Interest who doesn't know he's a detective, and he tells her that he's playing a game of "Cops & Robbers" with a friend.
- Subverted in Demolition Man when the police first approach Simon Phoenix. The first command is "Simon Phoenix, lay down, on the ground, with your hands behind your back." Simon responds with "Oh, I'm so scared!" The cop follows with "Lie down, on the ground... Or ELSE!" There was no "or else" to fall back on. The police in the ultra-peaceful San Angeles not only didn't have guns to shoot with, they didn't have proper training or even procedures to deal with violent criminals. Nevermind complete psychopaths.
- Bonnie and Clyde. The Outlaw Couple are gunned down without warning in a police ambush — this was Truth in Television. It should be noted that Barrow had shot his way out of several previous attempts to capture him, and his gang had killed nine lawman and several civilians during their crime spree.
- In Fool Moon, book two of The Dresden Files, Harry is shot at by FBI agents as he flees arrest. As they are shooting at him he explicitly thinks about how they are not supposed to be allowed to shoot him for fleeing. It turns out the agents are actually the villains of the book, and have been planing for several chapters to kill him and frame him for their own crimes.
- Justified in Harrison Bergeron in that it is said in an oppressive dystopia, and the speaker has an insane amount of power.
- In Andrei Belyanin's Tsar Gorokh's Detective Agency series, the main character is a modern-day cop transported into a fairy-tale tsardom, where he is asked to become a detective of sorts, as his skillset is unknown to them. Many times throughout the series he attempts to instill in the locals modern law enforcement practices with mixed results. One of these is for his squad of streltsy (guards in old Russia) to fire a warning shot before shooting a suspect. The sotnik (equivalent of captain) of the streltsy complains that it takes forever to reload their primitive hand cannons, which will allow the suspect to get away. The cop settles for "Stop or I Will Shoot!" instead.
- The 39 Clues Isabel Kabra. Only, it's more like, start obeying me again, son, or I'll shoot your sister. And she does, but in the foot and only as a warning.... And then she threatens to shoot practically everybody.
- Plus, she's not a cop- just a mega-rich evil lady capable of probably bribing cops into not arresting her. Except for in Book 10. :)
- Subverted in one of the Rogue Warrior novels. One of the characters is a former cop who yells for a man, later revealed to be a bodyguard, to surrender during a hostage rescue on a plane. Problem is, the rescue team are SEALS. They're not meant to shout "Freeze motherfucker or name your beneficiary," anyone waving a gun about during a firefight is fair game, and despite the officer's efforts the innocent bodyguard was gunned down.
- In Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, one of the cops interviewed for the book describes how, when he was younger, he was involved in a pursuit of a known criminal and pulled this trope, firing a warning shot into the air — and the criminal, who the cop knew previously, was genuinely shocked and shaken that the cop had fired 'at' him. The cop discussed how he was chastened enough to never pull this trick again.
- Subverted in The Silence of the Lambs. Clarice not being able to do this is why she has to chase Buffalo Bill into his basement. When she pulls her gun on him he just flees the room and she can't shoot him.
Live Action TV
- Counter-example: the docu-drama series Cops. If you watched about fifteen cops wrestle down a large, uncooperative, but unarmed suspect, and wondered why someone didn't just whip out a club and knock the guy out, the answer is that it's not allowed.
- In one of the earlies episodes a rookie cop, more or less says the trope title ("Stop or I'll shoot you in the back") he has never heard the end of this.
- Parodied in an episode of Bones. "Stop, or I'll... kick you in the testicles!"
- Doubly Subverted in new Doctor Who: Villain is about to kill an innocent. Doctor threatens Villain. Villain kills innocent. Doctor does nothing until Villain threatens a Named Character.
- Parodied in Community; when deputized as a temporary campus security officer, Annie tries this on a fleeing suspect. She quickly learns the hard way that when all of you have is a pepper spray, this threat is a lot less effective... and that if you try 'shooting' the suspect, all you end up doing is running straight into a cloud of pepper spray.
- Averted in Copper because the show is set in 1864 New York and the police of the time do not bother with niceties like identifying themselves before they open fire. When the protagonists ambush a group of bank robbers they open fire first and then offer the lone survivor a chance to surrender.
- Averted in The World of Darkness games where several Sourcebooks give guidelines on standard police procedure when facing suspects. Given that its the World Of Darkness, a player can assume that if a cop fulfills this trope then there's a good chance he's corrupt or being manipulated.
- The Sound of Music has one of these with the one daughter's boyfriend who joined Those Wacky Nazis...he tells the family to stop, and the Captain replies he hasn't got the guts to do it. The result is a standoff with the Captain trying to get him to turn over the gun, and the boy eventually yelling "they're here!"
- Subverted in Survival of the Fittest season one, when David Jackson tries this on a crazed and paranoid Andrew Klock who is steadily advancing on his group. Andrew ignores his warnings, even when David pulls out his gun and points it at his head, and eventually breaks into a full on charge. This causes David to panic and pull the trigger, shooting Andrew right between the eyes.
- Mickey Mouse, of all characters, pulls this on Donald Duck in the short Symphony Hour!
- Also subverted in the animated Dilbert cartoon:
Cops: Stop and we'll shoot!
Dilbert: Stop and we'll shoot? If you're going to shoot, why should we stop?
Cop: The targets at the firing range don't move.
Cop: Hold your fire, he's running...
- In one episode of The Simpsons they shot at Bart with shotguns for not going to Ralph's birthday party.
- In The Movie they shot at Bart for skateboarding naked, parodying how FCC\MPAA\etc are much more lax towards violence than nudity\sex.
- In The Boondocks, Uncle Ruckus is told by police officers to get out of his truck and show them I.D. even though he was doing nothing and in fact was the one that called them. Even though Ruckus fully cooperated, and told the officers what he was doing, when he pulled out his wallet, a cop shouted "GUN!!!" and they opened fire. They missed. Then he tried to pull out a spare safety orange wallet. Cue another "GUN!!!" and Ruckus being brutally beaten by Night sticks.
- Used in Justice League where Metamorpho has just accidentally caused a truck to crash. The cops tell him to freeze, and when he puts his hands up, they shoot a rocket launcher at him.
- A Russian anecdote subverts this trope. "Stop, I'll shoot!" "Stopping!" "Shooting!"
- Firearms instructor Massad Ayoob relates how he was told by officers in one police department that they had the statutory authority to shoot a fleeing suspect. As there'd been an outcry in a neighbouring department over just such an incident, Ayoob decided to speak to their District Attorney, who replied: "Yes, they have the legal authority to shoot, but that doesn't mean they won't get in a shitload of trouble if they do."
- Robin Williams, during his performance at the Met, covered this trope with a few different types of cops:
- L.A. cops: "Stop, or I'll shoot!"
- West Hollywood cops: "Stop! Those shoes don't go with those pants!"
- Cops in London: "The police don't have a gun, and you don't have a gun, so it's "Stop!...or I'll say stop again!"
- Any statute in the US that allows police to do this in any circumstance is automatically unconstitutional. See Tennessee v. Garner Such deadly force is only valid if "the suspect threatens the officer with a weapon or there is probable cause to believe that he has committed a crime involving the infliction or threatened infliction of serious physical harm . . . if, where feasible, some warning has been given."
- That said, don't think the rules apply the same way towards Military Police. While they have many of the same restrictions on use of force when not on the battlefield, there is a short list of things that will get you shot quickly, such as threatening a human life (the soldier or a bystander), or threatening highly important strategic assets, such as nuclear weapons, The President, or certain facilities. Mind you, they tend not to keep those strategic assets just lying around, so you will really have to try if you are going to approach them.
- There was an incident in Arizona where two teenage car thieves, trying to evade the cops, took a wrong turn and went barreling through the security gate at an Air Force base. The guards, having no way of knowing what the intentions were of the occupants of the speeding car evidently trying to force its way into a secured military installation, opened fire on the car and killed one of the occupants.
- This is standard operating procedure in Singaporean army camps, where two stops "Stop!" separated by a paused, then "Stop or I will shoot!" are being shouted to someone with hostile intent charging the camp guard.
- Generations of British servicemen and women who did at least one tour of duty in Northern Ireland will know the above as "the Yellow Card Warning", to allow you to demonstrate in court afterwards that you gave the perp every opportunity to lower their weapon and surrender before you opened fire.
- This sort of behavior was the basis of the scandal involving Seattle police officer Ian Birk, who shot and killed a Native American woodcarver named John T. Williams he believed was brandishing a knife. However, the dashcam from his police car, while not showing the actual shooting, did demonstrate that there were mere seconds between Birk seeing Williams walking along the street and Williams being shot dead, making it unlikely Williams could even have had the opportunity to do anything threatening. The case was resolved by an internal review declaring the shooting unjustified, and Birk resigned from the force, however no charges were brought against him.
- Played straight, but also subverted, at the Berlin Wall. Played horribly straight, as East German border guards were ordered to use lethal force to stop people from crossing the border illegally. More 100 than people, including pre-teen children, were killed while trying to escape East Germany. Later subverted in that many of the perpetrators were tried and sentenced by the reunified Germany for ordering or carrying out the shootings.
- The same thing is still happening in North Korea. Anyone attempting to cross the border to escape North Korea, whether they're headed for South Korea or even China, would be shot right away.