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Lothar:: "Freeze, motherfucker, or I'll kill you where you stand!"

Eastwood: "...He's running faster."

Lothar: "Ah, but he respects me."

Mook: "Alright. Stay where you are and we'll shoot you!"

'Krillin: "Don't you mean or we'll shoot you'?"

Mook: "We know what we said!"

The phrase "Stop Or I'll Shoot" embodies a common theory, 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 theory is flawed. In real life, police officers are required to use the absolute minimum amount of force 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".

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 utilize 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 Law Goof. Very often occurs together with mild variants of Gun Safety Goof (gun safety rules are broken, though 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.

Examples of Stop or I Will Shoot include:


Anime and Manga

  • Subverted in Higurashi. 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'm a police officer. I can't just shoot fleeing suspects!"
  • Ouka does this in Kyouran Kazoku Nikki when someone reveals they were using Mind Control on him.

Film

  • Parodied in the largely forgettable Sylvester Stallone action-comedy Stop, or My Mom Will Shoot. (But not so forgettable here.)
  • A particularly 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), 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 short story "From a View to a Kill" makes this explicit.
      • Killing in self defense is another matter.
      • The "licence 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 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. 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.
  • "Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown."
  • 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...
  • 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.

Literature

  • 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 Belianin'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.

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.

Tabletop RPG

  • 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.

Video Games

  • Pretty much any video game where enemies include police or security guards; these will invariably shoot first and ask questions never.
    • Notable Exception: SWAT 4 has you playing the role of, well, a SWAT team (special police). Players have access to a large amount of nonlethal weapons and you get a lot of points knocked off for 'Unauthorized Use of Force' - shooting without shouting for compliance (ie. "Hands up!") unless they've already pointed a gun at an officer or a hostage - which is an open invitation to shoot first for the sake of you, your squad, or the hostage. The game is at its most fun when you mercilessly attack with tasers, paintball guns, and beanbag shotguns. Especially as less-lethal force isn't penalized.
      • The negligently unaggressive police A.I. sometimes makes you wish your SWAT teammates would shoot on sight, though, since you often get low points on a mission because one of your teammates told a suspect to surrender, and the suspect responded with a shotgun blast to the officer's face, costing you both an officer and 20% of the mission score. Your SWAT teammates won't fire unless fired upon even if you equip them with less-lethal stun weapons (i.e. tasers or pepper spray).
        • This is only the case in SWAT 4. In SWAT 3, your officers are much more likely to shoot a suspect if he's so much as holding a gun, let alone pointing it at them or shooting it. That said, they will immediately stop shooting at the suspect if he drops his gun and surrenders, assuming they missed.
    • An interesting aversion to this occurs in the more recent Grand Theft Auto games. When the player character gets a single wanted star, police officers will approach and attempt to subdue and arrest the player nonlethally, unless the character has drawn a firearm. At that point they open fire. Progressing to a second star, which generally involves inflicting significant property damage or killing civilians/police, will result in the police simply opening fire and keep on shooting until you're dead.
  • Averted in Sierra's Police Quest game series. Produced by real-life police officers, the games require you to follow proper police procedure (don't worry, it's All There in the Manual). Failure to do so will give you an abrupt game over.
    • Not always an immediate game over, though. In some cases, seemingly minor infractions will go unpunished, only to show up later. Example: in the first game, taking a criminal to jail requires you to lock up your gun in a gun locker outside, for safety. Failure to do so will still allow you to get access to the jail, but as soon as you uncuff the suspect to escort him to his cell, he'll take your gun and kill you.
  • Mostly averted in Postal 2 -- the cops will shout this if you commit a crime and run away, but won't actually shoot unless you pull out a weapon.
    • However, if a civilian NPC is caught committing a crime, the cops will chase them down and beat them to death, even if they drop their weapon and try to run away.
      • This is because there is no arrest mechanic for NPCs (the player arrest mechanic being a simple fade-to-black then restart at the police station). Same thing applies to the later Grand Theft Auto games, the ones where the cops actually care about criminals other than the player.
  • Played straight for Grand Theft Auto. Alright, the way most people play, the cops would be perfectly justified in shooting at your character. Sometimes though, it's less justified, especially when you're comitting non-violent crimes, they'll still shoot.
    • In the third and fourth installation, the cops actually won't fire a single bullet at you at one star. Anything above that though, and they open fire. Less justified than it sounds though in the fourth: if they catch up to you and you keep running instead of letting them arrest you, you'll get another star and they'll shoot you in the back. Which is actually merciful in that one. You lose all your weapons if arrested, but this is the first one that lets you keep your arsenal after visiting the hospital.
  • Averted in Mafia: City of Lost Heaven. The cops will ticket you for minor infractions (running a red light), and attempt to arrest you for major infractions (running over a civilian). Running away from the cops will raise a fine-level infraction to an arrest-level infraction, but they still won't use violence against you. It's only when you physically threaten them (i.e. slam your car into theirs, or fire a weapon) that they actually start shooting (as well as trying to run you over).
  • The Imperial Stormtroopers in the Dark Forces Saga have a tendency to loudly yell out "Stop or I'll shoot!" or "You're under arrest!" while simultaneously opening fire on you with their blasters.
  • In Fallout 3, the Vault Overseer orders you to surrender or be killed. If you do surrender, he takes your gun and shoots you in the face with it. Nice guy.
  • From Imperishable Night:

 Marisa: Move and I'll shoot! ...I messed up. I mean, shoot and I'll move. In a flash.

  • The "Blues" in Mirror's Edge mostly just shout something like "There she is!" and open fire, but at some points in the game they follow this trope to the letter.
  • A rare, none firearm related example can be found in Oblivion. Upon the acquisition of a bounty, guards will confront the player, and give him a choice of paying the fine, going to jail and losing skill points, or "resist arrest"--basically not cooperating. If the player chooses to resist arrest, regardless of whether he's armed or not, fighting back or running away, the guards will attempt to either snipe at him with arrows or run him through with a sword. The player can still surrender at any time and receive the same three options again. The guards don't seem to have the slightest of interests in incapacitating and incarcerating the player, and seem perfectly happy to merely bleed the player to death instead. This would also explain why various prisons around Cyrodil are so empty...
  • Judge Dredd: Dredd Vs Death had a system where you were encouraged to try and take criminals in alive by ordering them to stop and then disarming/wounding them. You're not particularly punished for killing someone engaged in a firefight with you, unless you kill someone who has surrendered or use your Lawgiver's incendiary rounds on perps.
  • Averted and called out in LA Noire by Cole Phelps. If you're chasing down a suspect with your gun drawn, you can aim at the running suspect to fire a warning shot into the air, and Cole will tell the suspect to stop or he will shoot them. However, if you actually shoot them you fail the case and have to start from the last checkpoint.

Web Comics

  • Played with in Last Res0rt: "Slow down before we shoot again!" translates roughly to "Stop AND we'll shoot!"

Web Original

  • 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.

Western Animation

  • 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.

Other

  • 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."
    • Well that's alright then. "My only wish... is that someone be severely reprimanded for this!" [dies]
      • I know, how dare that cop do something that the statutes specifically allow!
      • That "trouble" could be anything from lots of paperwork to the officer responsible getting put on trial.
  • 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 the phrases "Stop!" (pause) "Stop!" (pause) "Stop or I will shoot!" are being shouted to someone with hostile intent charging the camp guard.
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