Research: Speed and movements associated with armed assaults

Synchronizing data with high-speed video programs provides a better understanding of the nature of pre-assault, assault and post-assault dynamics


The Force Science Institute has completed three new studies on the speed and movements associated with armed assaults.

“The goal of our research was to obtain highly accurate measurements to further explore the findings of our earlier studies," said Dr. Bill Lewinski. "Where we once measured movement speeds in the hundredths of a second, we are now able to measure those speeds to the thousandths of a second using accelerometers, gyroscopes and motion sensors. By synchronizing this data with high-speed video programs, we have a better understanding of the nature of pre-assault, assault and post-assault dynamics.

“These three studies not only validated our earlier research, but they also provided new data that may prove critical in use-of-force investigations and litigation,” Lewinski added.

Run and Shoot

Readers familiar with Force Science research know how quickly armed suspects can turn and shoot while running. When considered with Force Science reaction studies, this early research provided ground-breaking insights into the dynamics of deadly force encounters, shot placement, and wound analysis.

In one of their recent studies, Force Science researchers, in collaboration with a University in Utah, examined two shooting scenarios during which inexperienced shooters discharged a weapon while running.

The subjects used in the study represented the age and fitness level of typical offenders. Of particular interest to the researchers was the speed of the assault and the time it would take for the shooter’s back to be presented to the target after firing the shot.

“The shooting and turning times were fast. Whether they were shooting over their opposite arm or under, these inexperienced shooters were discharging their weapon faster than humans could reasonably be expected to see the threat and respond much faster,” Lewinski said.

“In our previous studies, we observed that it took research subjects about half a second to identify and process a threat and another 1.5 to 2 seconds or longer to unholster their gun and return fire. This can mean, by the time someone can return fire – assuming they can return fire at all – the original shooter may be running at a full sprint with their back square to the person they just shot at. These observations can prove critical in the investigation of civilian self-defense cases, law enforcement use of force, or military engagements.

“We are looking forward to publishing the full details of these studies, but for now, we can share that we observed physical movements – like the raising of the opposite arm to facilitate underarm shootings – that consistently preceded the assailant’s shot. If potential victims are able to perceive them, these movements may provide enough of a warning to allow them to maneuver away from the impending shot.”

Time to Shoot

In the second study, researchers using the new high-tech wearable motion sensors replicated three shooting scenarios previously studied by Force Science.

The first scenario involved “drivers” pulling a gun that had been concealed beside their right leg and then quickly pointing and shooting at a target on their left (simulating the driver’s side window).

The next scenario involved those same drivers pulling the concealed gun from beside their leg, then quickly pointing and shooting at a target on the right (simulating the passenger’s side window).

In the final scenario, subjects stood facing a target with their hand resting by their side. From there, the subject quickly drew a pistol from their waistband, pointed, and fired at the target.

“We knew the shooting times would be fast, but we were surprised by how consistent inexperienced shooters were able to perform these scenarios,” Lewinski said. “We noted that the average time of the passenger-side shooting was slower than the driver’s side shooting. For police operations, this validated our previous recommendation that passenger-side approaches should continue to be tactical options for officers.”

Lewinski was quick to point out that, “Regardless of which side the assailant shot at the target, the shootings were still taking place around half a second. We saw in our previous research that responding subjects took an average of nearly two seconds before reacting, drawing, and returning fire. We can’t emphasize enough that targets of armed assaults are not going to outdraw people who initiate the attack. Whether they are civilian, military, or law enforcement, the priority should be on tactics that avoid or mitigate the attacker’s ability or opportunity to carry out the assault.”

Shoot and Run

In the third study conducted by the Force Science Institute, researchers examined three assailant-initiated shooting actions.

“We wanted to take advantage of technological advances to update the methodology and analysis from our previous turn and shoot study, ” said Lewinski. “We know suspects frequently turn and run after firing at victims. The speed of those turning movements affects where bullets from responsive fire can be expected to impact the suspect. In this study, we looked at how fast a person with a concealed gun already in their hand could point, fire, turn, and run.

“First we looked at a 90-degree turn, then a 180-degree turn, and finally, a strong-side turn. The strong-side turn began with the suspect facing away from the officer, gun in hand, concealed in front of them. The research subject initiated the assault by beginning to run and then rapidly turning a full 180 degrees, like a buttonhook in football. The subject then rapidly shot the target, turned back, and continued running.

“As expected, all three ‘time-to-shoot’ motions were much faster than a person could react to the shooting, draw, and fire their own gun. After discharging their weapon, the subjects were able to turn their backs toward the target in under 1 second, regardless of their starting position or shooting motion.

“In less than 1/3 of a second, the back of the subject’s head would be directed at their original target. What the advanced technology allowed us to observe was that each of the suspects actually over-rotated their head at least 30 degrees in every turn. This was a previously unobserved behavior that can have important implications for bullet strike analysis during use of force investigations.”

Force Science is excited to share these important research findings and will notify readers when the final publications are available.

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