Straight Shooting: Police Response

Posted: February 2, 2016 in Uncategorized

Immediately after a deadly Police shooting the general question comes from the civilian population “Why didn’t they shoot him in the leg or arm?!” The tone is then set portraying law enforcement as either malicious or incompetent. While not all shootings are void of either (sometimes containing elements of both),  all cases are usually thrown into the public forum as such, which is largely unfair. I’d like to shed some light on the situation and procedure involved in these perceived instances of reckless force, which take the form of two concepts; Procedure and Proficiency.

AD2An Officer trained properly in every situation should see things through the visor of the Use of Force continuum. ‘A use of force continuum is a standard that provides law enforcement officers and civilians with guidelines as to how much force may be used against a resisting subject in a given situation.’ This standard is used worldwide and most models resemble each other identically in theory, with some being more elaborate and others less so. Each and every situation where there is suspected criminal activity or resistance even by body language, there is a proper amount of force to be used to equate to it or to be used less than it. For the purpose of this explanation in police shootings we’ll be focusing on ‘Deadly Force.’ When someone draws a deadly weapon, Lethal force is not only necessary, but many times mandated. When a knife is drawn, once the assailant is in adequate distance to lunge at an officer or civilian, he can inflict a mortal wound. Worse yet with a firearm, the international procedure being in general that once the assailant points the barrel towards anyone the officer should open fire. There is a thin line between use of force levels, and even thinner between life and death. Once deadly force is apparent, officers are trained to respond with a shot to the body. This of course leads to the other considerations of disarming, “why not take away the knife, why not shoot to disable rather than kill?”

First of all anyone who thinks taking away a knife from an assailant is an easy or plausible task either hasn’t been trained well, or hasn’t been in a serious knife fight. Personally, I have 3 black belts and an instructor’s certificate in close quarters military combat, and if I have a gun, I’d prefer to open fire any day. The public often thinks of officers as tools rather than people with families and lives that matter, and at the same time many attorney’s focus on ‘rights of the criminal’ before lives of the innocent bystanders. Meeting deadly force with less than deadly force is often fool-hearted at best. In terms of the proficiency in training, it may shock many people to know that all law enforcement officers are not at a professional mma fighter level, or Wild Bill Hickok level shooters. Nor do they need to be.

c_e_o_criminal_entitlement_organization_t_shirt-rc48732bf161a4cd8a9095d681f352f4c_804gy_324Security is a major function of law enforcement, and most of that deals with being vigilant and being able to respond at a basic level (much report writing and being a deterrent to criminal activity by presence), being trained to respond to the most serious threats as a last resort. That being said, most persons who call on regular officers to make ‘crack-shots’ to the arm or leg, as if it is simple have probably never handled a firearm, nor been in a potential firefight. Even tactically trained men are taught to shoot to the ‘centre-mass’ of the target because simply put it is the most likely to hit. This is important far beyond just the assailant being shot, think of what happens if the shot misses? The officer would be putting innocent bystanders at risk. There is a reason the NYPD use hollow-point bullets now, not just because it causes more damage, but is far less likely to penetrate through the back of a single target. Note that there are very well trained tactical units and officers trained as sharpshooters who can place their shots at different points on the target, but this is far a few between. Those as well who can literally shot a gun out of an assailant’s hand are usually trained snipers, who would prefer still to go for a meatier target. Next time you think police shooting, ditch what action movies have programmed into us from a young age, and think rationally, i.e. consider the above.

confused-too-many-choices-arrow-street-signs-several-colorful-words-illustrating-paralysis-immobility-you-can-31864922In some societies however they use less than lethal weapons (taser guns for example) to deal with anything short of a firearm threat. It is important to note though that those societies do not equip regular law enforcement officers with firearms, and this is so because the general level of threat in public is very low (countries like the UK where gun control is strict and the illegal firearm trade is low). It has been proposed that officers train and carry a multitude of ‘gadgets’ and trained in them to give them options. While this is an initiative that I support, it must be examined carefully with realistic human limitation in mind. Striker-fire polymer safe-action based handguns (for the sake of simplicity, gun with no manual safety), have become remarkably popular throughout the world of law enforcement (and in some cases military). Consider in any high stress emergency situation i.e. combat, your ability to use fine motor skills goes from ten to two in a split second, your ability to think and judge are diminished in some way no matter how much training you go through (although training assists with retaining some). Enter these fairly new handguns, which have gained popularity because they are simple to operate. Once loaded and cocked, just draw and fire, no additional frills (this however makes the weapon less safe to operate if handled carelessly). I say the above to make a point, too many options are not necessarily a good thing. Even with training it is easy to become confused in high-stress situations. You may reach for one tool, and your mind is on the possibility of another, which slows down your already strained thought pattern. One’s fate is usually calculated in the millisecond.

There is much to consider in going forward with the use of lethal and less-than-lethal force, however I hope that the above article has been helpful to the public in understanding the response of police officers in the face of a lethal threat.

Paul-Daniel Nahous BS, CHS-I, ATO
Law Enforcement Consultant
Combat Specialist

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