Ga. PD launches ‘Shoot to Incapacitate’ program
The program, which trains officers to aim for areas less likely to be fatal, has sparked debate and questions
What is your opinion of this new training? Read what other Police1 readers have to say and share your thoughts in the box at the end of the article, then read an analysis of the concept by Police1 columnist Kyle Sumpter.
By Brad Schrade
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
LAGRANGE, Ga. — The police officers’ voices grew firm and loud as they pointed their guns at the human silhouettes in the distance.
“Sir, drop the sword, drop the sword,” one officer yelled.
“Drop it, drop it,” another hollered.
Does the officer shoot or not? Is there a better option to stop a person who is threatening but in distress? If an officer must shoot, is there a way to lessen the chance of death? These questions hung over the training that played out days ago at LaGrange Police Department’s gun range. But some version of these scenarios unfolds for real across America daily as police engage with individuals who are sometimes armed and erratic, posing a threat to officers or the public.
The training is part of a new program launched by the West Georgia agency meant to address some of these questions. The program, called “Shoot to Incapacitate,” is challenging decades of police orthodoxy around use of deadly force. Instead of teaching officers to always aim for available center mass of the body — usually the chest, upper torso and head — the training is giving them another option if they must fire their weapons in the line of duty.
The course is the first of its kind in Georgia and could well be a first in the nation. It is teaching officers that in some instances where they are authorized to use deadly force, they have the option to aim for the pelvic region, abdomen, legs and arms of a person posing a threat. The idea is that a gunshot to these areas, while still potentially deadly, could stop the threat while increasing the chance that the wounds will not be fatal.
It is a break from generations of American law enforcement training taught in academies and in annual recertification training. The reason officers have been instructed to aim for the upper torso and head area is that it generally provides the largest target and the fastest way to stop the threat.
This method, while effective, has contributed to the roughly 1,000 fatal police shootings each year and helped plunge law enforcement agencies, and the communities they serve, into crisis after crisis. About a quarter of the fatal shootings each year occur in situations involving the mentally ill, sometimes at the height of a breakdown or episode.
“It’s a responsibility, in my opinion, of any police leader to look at options for their police officers so that a deadly force encounter doesn’t necessarily end in a deadly result,” said LaGrange Police Chief Lou Dekmar.
The training, launched in February, has already sparked debate and questions. It comes as police officers across the country feel besieged by public scrutiny and second guessing unlike anything the profession has seen its history. Some LaGrange officers viewed the course initially with a dose of skepticism.
“To be honest, when Chief Dekmar called me and we sat down and talked about it, that was my first reaction,” said Sgt. Joshua Clower, the department’s training director. “I was like, ‘I don’t know about this.’”
Clower said he changed his mind as he researched the issue to develop the training. He looked at dozens of police shooting videos and consulted with medical experts. The training includes a classroom session that lasts more than an hour, with a discussion of how the technique could apply to several actual cases, including the 2017 shooting death of Georgia Tech student Scott Schultz. Officers also undergo subsequent firing range sessions where they walk through various scenarios where the technique can be deployed in the field.
“I worked on the street as a patrol officer for 17 years,” Clower said. “You find yourself in situations where the use of deadly force is justified, but I really don’t want to take this subject’s life.”
He said the program hasn’t replaced the agency’s focus on de-escalation and less lethal options. The training instruction emphasizes the shoot to incapacitate method can only be used if deadly force is justified. It doesn’t supplant the option to aim for the chest or head if a suspect has a gun or officers’ judgment deems those targets necessary to ensure safety for themselves or others.
After some initial reluctance and skepticism, the overall feedback has been positive in anonymous surveys by officers in the department who completed the training, Clower said.
“Our folks are going to question things that may not make sense,” he said.
Other agencies and police professionals are taking note. Some see Dekmar and his agency playing into the hands of activists and others pressuring police to reform in ways that could compromise the safety of officers or the general public. Some wonder if its stated goal of preserving life is realistic. Others see the training as the type of creative thinking that could hold promise, while still wanting more data before making a final judgment.
Park City ( Utah) Chief Wade Carpenter, who heads the International Association of Chiefs of Police firearms committee, was in Georgia recently to take measure of the new training. He said he expects it to spur discussion as police leaders grapple with the ongoing need to change and evolve.
“I think early on, until they do their own trials and tests, they’re going to be skeptical,” Carpenter said. “I’m in that same boat. That’s why I’m here today because I want to see firsthand what the concept is and see if it’s a viable option.”
Chief initially reluctant
Dekmar didn’t come to the idea overnight.
His law enforcement career has spanned more than four decades, including the past quarter-century leading the LaGrange department, about 67 miles southwest of Atlanta. During that time, his officers fired their guns in 13 deadly force incidents, including two that resulted in death.
While other agencies prohibit using warning shots, Dekmar has kept it as an option for officers.
“I worked on the street as a patrol officer for 17 years. You find yourself in situations where the use of deadly force is justified, but I really don’t want to take this subject’s life.” — Sgt. Joshua Clower, training director for LaGrange PD
Warning shots have only been used once during his tenure, but the technique had a significant impact for one family.
“To the 15-year-old that we didn’t shoot and kill when we were lawfully justified, that made a significant difference,” he said.
Dekmar said he first learned about the shoot to incapacitate concept 17 years ago in a police exchange program with Israel. He later learned that countries in Europe use a similar approach.
“It became increasingly clear that many nations train their officers to shoot to incapacitate if that’s possible,” he said.
At first, he wasn’t sold on the technique.
“It took me a period of time to process it and adjust to it,” he said.
In 2019, he introduced the concept to his firearms instructors and asked them to think about it. Last year, the agency leaders researched the issue and couldn’t find any other agency in the U.S. using the strategy. They developed their own protocol, and Dekmar approved the training and range procedures that were incorporated into the agency’s annual training that started in February.
He said when the public calls police for help, they expect officers to show up with alternatives and knowledge of how to deal with a situation. His officers are trained for verbal de-escalation and crisis intervention methods, as well as less lethal options such as Tasers, 12-gauge beanbags, pepper balls and BolaWrap remote restraints. He views shoot to incapacitate as a tool he hopes his officers will rarely use, but one that is there if use of deadly force is justified and necessary.
“Anytime you can preserve a life, what that does is earn trust and maintain confidence of the public, which is absolutely necessary if you’re going to be effective in the entire arena of public safety,” he said.
The unorthodox training isn’t the first time Dekmar has made waves among his colleagues.
In January 2017, he made national news when he became one of the first police chiefs in the South to apologize for his agency’s role in the lynching of a Black man. Even though the crime had occurred more than 70 years ago, Dekmar, who is white, believed its legacy still impacted the community’s view of his agency and its officers. As president of IACP in 2017 and 2018, he urged other police leaders to repair the broken trust with minorities in their communities. He also called for an improvement in policies and training to handle mentally ill people.
At the range training last week, Sgt. Clower was directing officers through different real world scenarios where the shoot to incapacitate concept might be an option.
At one end of the range, the human silhouettes were positioned with body sections that are color coded to indicate desired target areas. The pelvic area, thighs, legs and arms were green or yellow — indicating desired spots to aim. The chest, upper torso, head and neck were shaded in red — indicating areas to try to avoid.
The officers took positions 15 yards, seven yards and three yards away from the targets. Clower used a whistle to signal the point in the training scenario where deadly force was justified, which was followed by a series of gunshots by the officers. In most cases, the bullets struck the green area that marked the pelvis and thigh areas, which the training emphasizes because they carry more mass than the arms and lower legs.
In one scenario, at close range, the officers were told to aim for the red area because the close proximity of their suspect placed the officers at increased risk.
Corporal Robbie Hall said the training went better than he expected. He said there has been concern among some colleagues that the technique won’t work or will place officers at risk. The training, he said, offers another option if use of force is necessary. Under the tactic, officers must assess whether the situation and distance make it a viable alternative.
“Before I shot this target, it didn’t seem like an option,” he said. “It’s definitely doable. Now that I’ve actually went through the course, it’s doable.”
Still, some in the broader law enforcement community wonder if LaGrange is headed down a thorny path. They worry that the training could create community expectations and raise questions about why officers didn’t employ the tactic in all police shootings. They also question how realistic it is in live situations to hit a moving target and stop a lethal threat while also firing a gun with the precision to wound, but not kill.
The LaGrange program appears to be part of an effort by agencies nationwide grappling with ways to stop deadly threats while increasing the survivability chances of suspects, said Von Kliem, a policy attorney with the Force Science Institute, a company that studies police and community violence.
“Before I shot this target, it didn’t seem like an option. It’s definitely doable. Now that I’ve actually went through the course, it’s doable.” — Corporal Robbie Hall, LaGrange PD
Kliem, a former police officer, said some agencies in recent years have turned to controversial policies that allow officers to use Tasers against knife-wielding suspects, as long as they have deadly force options available. He said that with any luck, the shoot to incapacitate policy will work in the rare instances where it would be appropriate.
“To say these tactics are authorized is not to say these tactics should be considered in most cases,” he said. “The agencies, officers, and communities need to decide whether increased risk of death and serious bodily injury to the officers and the community members is worth these attempts to save suspects from the consequences of their deadly decisions.”
Activists in Georgia say reform of police use of force is long overdue. They point to scores of deadly police shootings with little accountability. They say more emphasis needs to be placed on de-escalation tactics and preserving life in police encounters.
“In this climate, we don’t need any more police shootings, period,” said Gerald Griggs, an attorney and activist who has worked on police reform with the Georgia NAACP. “We need to reevaluate how we deal with all of that.”
Dekmar views the debate to be critical as community standards and expectations evolve.
“I think what the community expects is that we need to be wise,” he said. “The standard isn’t “awful but lawful”. The standard is — under the facts and circumstances — did the police realistically do all they could do to preserve life in a situation. We’re supposed to be the professionals. We have to be reacting with more than one alternative, which is shoot center mass — particularly if we can do so safely.”
Police1 readers respond
I am retired now after 42 years of active law enforcement. I am certified by Ga. POST as a Master Training Instructor and Firearms and Defensive Tactics Instructor. I have had numerous hours of training. I attended the Use of Force Instructor training course by the late Ed Nowicki. I have reviewed the proposal by La Grange PD, and disagree that it is viable due to numerous considerations. A person who is determined to kill another will not be dissuaded by shots to a limb or pelvic area. This has been proven in many police/suspect encounters. I understand that some in the public are unhappy when a family member or friend is killed by police gunfire. However, most (not all for sure) police shootings are justified. A complete and thorough investigation of each shooting should be completed prior to any decision on whether or not the shooting was justified. We must all understand that the courts are the final judge on whether or not a use of force was justified. Again, I will emphasize the critical need for additional police training. Departments are having their budgets cut at a time when those budgets should be increased. I will reserve final judgment on this new proposal to see how it works out.
I have about 40 years in law enforcement in patrol, as a firearms instructor, SWAT, sniper instructor, etc. One of the courses I have been involved with is active shooter/killer response Instructor training. Over several days we work up to a full-blown response exercise that is as realistic as we can be within safety and training limits. We use Simmunitions FX gear, smoke, lights, alarms, actors – the works. What initially amazed me was that several officers, some of whom I had worked with for years, reacted completely differently than expected. Some became very reluctant to make entry, some entered with little control but lots of drive, and some locked up and were unable to respond or defend themselves let alone others. And the only pain penalties here were getting stung by a soap capsule or knocked over. We sent officers back to their departments who not only didn’t pass but with specific recommendations to their administrators and trainers about future training and evaluation. I am sure that each of these officers had been doing a commendable job prior to coming to us or they would not have. So, just when training moves from square ranges to force-on-force, major differences are seen. If a program like this is to be implemented, it will take time and significant training to accomplish.
California recently changed deadly force to be only authorized when the threat is “imminent” and Sacramento PD just changed it to last resort. IMO, if you have time to shoot at a leg/arm etc., the threat is not “imminent” or last resort and would subject officers to a “bad shoot.” Femoral/brachial arteries located in the legs and arms bleed out fast. Lastly, now when your officer does not shoot the suspect in the leg etc., the question will be why didn’t they? This has created a NO WIN situation for the officers and increased liability.
I was involved in a shooting where I shot the suspect through his right arm (the arm holding the knife and stabbing another person). The shot went through his arm and hit his aorta (coroner said he would have been dead in 30 seconds), but he continued to stab his victim. In less than a half-second, the next round went just above his ear and immediately stopped the threat.
While well-intended, leaders need to see the natural consequences of policies and actions. If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, this policy is a paved expressway.
Respectfully, I submit that there has been any number of people – including officers – killed by a “dead” suspect whose gunshots were fatal, but was still able to pull a trigger or swing a knife. I would like to enumerate the things that could go wrong that far outweigh an idealistic belief that this will somehow cure deadly force encounters:
1) The officer misses and strikes an innocent person nearby;
2) The suspect misses and strikes an innocent person nearby;
3) The officer wounds the suspect, who then sues for medical care, pain, suffering and distress;
4) The officer wounds the suspect, who continues his or her attack, injuring or killing someone else – including the original target or the officer;
5) The officer waits too long to determine if s/he should shoot to incapacitate and someone else pays the price – including the original target or the officer
I commend LaGrange’s administrators for at least TRYING to do something (words without action are just...words), but I fear that this is not a practical outcome.
LE overall is seriously lagging behind in proper firearms and scenario-based use of deadly force training with way too many departments only requiring their officers to plink some static target with magazines preloaded for stages so you always know when your magazine change will be, the exact placement of dummy rounds so you know when the malfunction will occur, and no threat assessment to determine if there are additional targets that should/should not be engaged after clearing a malfunction, no cover when conducting that known reload, and one of the dumbest IMO ever commands of “Count your rounds, so you know when to reload.” You won’t realize just how dumb that one is until you’ve been in a gunfight and you get tunnel vision, lose your fine motor skills and that whole fight/flight kicks in. Such realistic training we conduct, is it any wonder?
Fascinating, yet impractical. Most gunshot wounds are NOT fatal, even when an officer aims at center mass. On the other hand, teaching officers to aim for the abdomen (kidneys, liver, spleen, intestines) will cause life-threatening wounds in soft tissue, causing massive and largely untreatable internal bleeding. Some subjects will die slowly from the loss of those major organs. Hits to the lower spine will create paralyzed or paraplegic victims, never able to walk again. Gunshot wounds to the thigh, knee? Permanent maiming injuries if the bone is shattered, with the possibility of subjects bleeding to death before reaching a major trauma center. Politically, the title of the program “Shoot to incapacitate” undermines decades of law enforcement policy and outreach. We’ve ALWAYS trained officers and deputies to “shoot to STOP” a threat. I can’t recall any major agency training officers to “shoot to kill.”
Not sure where to start, but here goes: I am a firearms instructor, as well as a former SWAT operator. What this chief proposes sounds great on paper but is totally unrealistic in real-life applications. Most officers will only fire their weapon on a range in a training situation (whether to qualify or during scenario-based training). This is an environment that has little to no stress involved, and even then, a large percentage of those officers are not capable of placing a well-aimed shot on a stationary target. Now introduce stress, raised heart rate, low light conditions and so many other factors and many officers would miss a barn even if they were standing inside of it! I have seen officers who trained and fired thousands of rounds yearly who were not capable of placing rounds in a chest cavity at 15 yds in a real-life incident. And what this chief must also remember is, what happens to the rounds that miss? We are liable for EVERY round that exits the muzzle!
LaGrange PD has provoked a discussion on application of lethal force by the police. The operational value of the proposed tactic is the first focus. The next tier of discussion will come from other than police practitioners. The views of physicians, government attorneys, legal counsel for plaintiffs, courts, POST boards, ethicists and other professionals who influence the police will further shape the future of police policies and training in regard to the propriety of “shoot to incapacitate.” LaGrange PD is to be commended for broaching perhaps the most divisive issue harming community trust of their police. The discussion launched by LaGrange PD may increase understanding about appropriate and necessary police tactics and enhance public support for men and women forced to make instant decisions that can be life-ending.
I am skeptical of this, however, there is little reason to not see how it goes, if other countries are using it successfully why can’t we? Law enforcement is changing and change is hard, especially the fundamental stuff taught for decades. We can either come to the table and have some input into the change, or get left behind. I’ll reserve my judgment until I see how it works in a real-world application.
Having previously heard a presentation from Chief Dekmar on leadership, I think that he is intelligent and well-intentioned. However, I think this concept will not survive the first lawsuit following a real application even if everything went according to plan and an officer managed to wound a mentally disturbed person wielding a hand-delivered weapon (without killing them or maiming them for life). Aside from the litany of worse potential outcomes, I don’t think our legal system will allow such a dangerous blurring of the line between deadly and less-lethal force.
Instead of wasting time and money on feel-good policies and training, how about committing time and resources to training officers to make good decisions. Stop relying on the lowest common denominator as the standard of acceptable performance. Train officers to fight (BJJ, boxing, etc.). Stop allowing physical standards to be directly proportional to tenure (no one respects officers who look like they live at the Waffle House).
Where do I start? Big sigh. I’m a firm believer in the evolution of law enforcement training, tactics and procedures. Our jobs/careers need to continually evolve with technology, citizen expectations, current laws and current court precedents/decisions. That being said, I will echo several other comments about this “shoot to incapacitate” training, I’m skeptical. If you remove your handgun from your holster, it means there is or potentially is a deadly force encounter, you should have already decided if deadly force is necessary. Training an officer to shoot an extremity during a deadly force encounter doesn’t seem to be a sound tactic. If you miss the smaller target area of the legs, arms etc., where are your rounds going? Shooting center mass is designed to incapacitate the threat, not necessarily cause death. Shooting at the pelvic area will cause devasting wounds, as others have mentioned, the femoral artery is located there. If this training is taught nationwide, the general public will come to expect this tactic to be used more than not. If you need to incapacitate in a non-lethal manner, then purchase less-lethal weapons and munitions such as shotgun bean bag rounds or 40mm less-lethal rounds. Using a weapon of deadly force shouldn’t be taught to be used as a less-lethal weapon. More money for training and firearms training is needed. Historically officer-involved shootings have low accuracy, the 1999 NYPD shooting of Dialo is an example, 41 shots fired, only 19 rounds struck the subject, 46% accuracy. Fewer shots fired with higher accuracy would be a better outcome and would look less like excessive force.
Shooting to incapacitate may leave the suspect injured but not stopped and then the suspect kills either an officer or someone else and the officer will be critiqued for not stopping the suspect.
City councils, mayors, city and county leaders – all the people that decide where the money goes should focus on teaching the community how to react to law enforcement, not how law enforcement should do trick shots. I understand and agree with taking our time and thinking through things, but this is a slippery slope that’s going to get a good, rightful officer hurt and killed. Stop making cops think 100,000 things in a split second. This just adds to the list they have to go through while trying to save their own life potentially. I want to progress and want us to think outside the box, but please, stop making it the cops’ fault.
Trying to use lethal force ( a firearm) in a non or less-lethal manner will create a new accuracy training standard for departments making them more liable when it doesn’t work. There is also the problem of explaining why they shot at all if they didn’t believe there was an imminent danger to another person. Finally, it would create a general public belief that such marksmanship is even possible under the incredible stress of a shooting situation. I won’t even get into how much more danger this creates for the officers.
This sounds like a wonderful idea until a defense attorney argues that their client’s 8th amendment rights were violated. Shoot to incapacitate results in unnecessary pain and suffering, this also requires officers that are not sharpshooters or expert marksman to make precision shots under extreme pressure. This will also lead to officers going through paralysis by analysis, as they will be so focused on avoiding deadly force that by the time they make a decision the officer or someone else will be dead. I applaud the effort and I am sure that politicians will think this is wonderful. If we are looking for an actual solution, arm your officers with less-lethal shotguns or weapons that fire rubber bullets, employ less-lethal contact and lethal cover principles. What about one-man units you ask? Take away solo officer response so no one rides alone. I see this type of training as being very dangerous and creating a lot of liability especially with everyone under the sun gunning for officers’ qualified immunity. This has US 1983 42 written all over it. Before implementing this training I would seek out an AG’s opinion as well as contact use of force experts and attorneys that specialize in police use of force cases.
I think it is good to have training in which officers think outside of the box (head and torso). I had a training in which we also shot at the pelvic area because we can stop a threat moving towards us. This was another option our firearms instructor taught us to use to keep a threat from advancing on us. It would be an easier target to hit as opposed to the head.
However, I take issue with the idea of doing “warning” or “incapacitating” shots at legs or arms because they are smaller target areas. Even proficient shooters could miss these in rapidly evolving and intense situations. We have to own each bullet that we send flying and I couldn’t deal with hitting an innocent bystander who was behind the suspect.
We also should only be using deadly force when we have grounds to believe a subject poses a threat of death or serious injury to us or to others. In my opinion, if you have enough time to take a “shot to incapacitate” then you probably have time to use a less-lethal weapon. This indicates to me your use of deadly force would not be justified because the threat to you or others was not imminent.
I think if a department wants to train on shooting the leg or hand to hone their shooting skills a little bit more, that is probably ok. But if it becomes an expectation from departments and society, I’m completely opposed to it. You cannot expect such perfection in a shooting where a situation changes so quickly and is so intense that basically, the officer is only using her/his gross motor skills.
I concur with the comments expressed. This is not a good idea. De-escalation training coupled with less lethal options should be included in the training of all departments. Firearms are lethal force and should not be changed in classification or attempted to be used as non-lethal force. In addition, I can’t believe that this department allows warning shots. Those are dangerous and reckless. As I was told several decades ago when we were ordered not to fire warning shots, that stray bullet is going to land somewhere.
What goes around comes around again. What’s old is new again. In 1979 when I went through Military Police training, we were taught to shoot to wound with M1911 pistols not known for accuracy. When I joined the Chicago Police Department in the mid-1980s I was retrained to shoot center mass and neutralize the threat with my much more accurate revolver. Given the better accuracy of current police pistols perhaps the time is right to revisit shoot to wound, but as for me, I’m happy collecting my pension.
We need to be careful to not allow the wrong people to control the narrative. The notion of aiming for the target’s legs as an effort to “shoot to incapacitate” is a crock. Police have always been taught to “shoot to incapacitate,” never to shoot “to kill.” They taught us that when I was in the academy in 1973 and it’s been the same doctrine ever since. We can’t let the anti-police advocates yet again attempt to re-define the objective into “shoot to wound” and “shoot to kill” to further their agenda. Additionally, I remember the attempt by political police admin types to sell the “Quell System” to everyone years ago, where you were supposed to always aim for the pelvis. It resulted in a lot of missed shots in practical application and often didn’t quickly incapacitate a threat. If someone needs to be stopped so badly that they need to be shot into submission, then common sense would dictate that they be stopped as close to instantly as possible with the least amount of shooting in a public place.
This idea of shooting to wound is ridiculously absurd. Bullets are notorious for not stopping the threat with a single round. Cops are being sued and charged all over this country for uses of force already. With shoot to wound. how many will be sued for causing damage, such as infections, loss of limb use, broken bones, PTSD, spinal cord injuries? Can you imagine the backlash from the mainstream media after a few people are shot and wounded? This is not Hollywood and we can’t ask officers to try to shoot weapons out of people’s hands or shoot the pinky toe to cause pain compliance. Much less ask officers to figure out where “shoot to wound” is on the use of force spectrum! You’re only asking for more trouble and endangering more lives in blue! Continue to train your officers in confrontation avoidance and UOF policies. Train often and allow officers to conduct scenario-based training as often as possible.
In a profession reluctant to make change, I genuinely applaud leaders courageous enough to search for innovation. That said, I fear this concept only muddies the waters by inflaming unrealistic expectations from an already skeptical public who overestimate human capabilities thanks to movie and television stunts. In the first place, asking police officers to use a firearm as a less-than-lethal instrument is akin to asking a carpenter to make do with a hammer instead of a screwdriver. If we want less-lethal options for our officers, we must invest in additional less-lethal tools and provide officers with regular training on their use. Separately, assume a police officer using a firearm with non-deadly intent shoots a person who ultimately dies. How do we hold him/her accountable for a death when deadly force was not the intent? To be clear, there is still very much a debate about the lethality of the pelvic girdle, through which the femoral artery flows on both sides and the severing of which frequently causes death in two to five minutes. Moreover, the likelihood of intentionally hitting a moving extremity is astronomically low. The reality of using any force in dynamic environments is that you often don’t hit, with anything (baton, TASER, handgun), where you intended to. Within the last 72 hours, I was personally involved in a use of force and deployed a TASER by taking careful aim at the front of a suspect; when it was over, I realized that both probes had struck him in the back. Principles of biomechanics well explain the disparity, as do multiple camera angles that show the suspect spin after I pressed the trigger. These practical, real-world scenarios – which are well supported by science – highlight the pressing need to consider real-world training, and this is not that.
Because of outside pressures, most with no concept of what police officers go through day after day, police leaders are being forced to try anything. To do anything other than to immediately stop the threat is dangerous to both the officer and the public. These are split-second decisions. Police chiefs have allowed their leadership roles to be taken over by politicians, community leaders and ill-informed citizen groups. The misunderstanding and failure of Community Oriented Policing has led to this point in policing. The duty of police departments is to enforce the legislative laws governing society. The police department was never designed to be “all things to all people” as it is now expected to be. The failures of society, the family structure, education and deterioration of city infrastructures have all been placed on the police officer. The bottom line: no matter what happens or what new gimmicks are tried, like calling violent criminals “customers,” the police officer will become the scapegoat while police chiefs continue to go through the “revolving door.”
It is important that law enforcement agencies publicly pursue evolving tactics. That being said, I would fall into the skeptical category for “shoot to wound.” Paper targets and controlled training scenarios are one thing. Anyone who has looked at real-life shooting scenarios realizes that they are incredibly dynamic and the bigger the target you have to aim for the higher chance you have of successful survival of innocents and officers. Training a department for “trick shots” I fear, is inviting exponentially more lawsuits and scrutiny. One more tool for the toolbox is one thing, overloading an officer with tools that risk their safety and the safety of those we are sworn to protect and serve, is another.
“The only thing that justifies shooting a person is that there must be an overwhelming need to stop them from performing some action. That need must be so great that it does not matter if they die as a result of being stopped.” — Col. Jeff Cooper. Firearms are not less-lethal force tools and only fools consider them such. If there is an overwhelming need to stop them from harming or killing innocents, shooting for less lethal areas only increases the chances of an innocent citizen or officer being killed for the benefit of a suspect.
When I first started doing armed law enforcement boardings in the Coast Guard the training was focused on “shoot to kill” a threat. The “threat” was identified by training that was called “judgmental shooting.” By lecture and then “shoot/don’t shoot” scenarios the officer’s judgment was evaluated.
In the mid-to-late 1980s, the “buzz words” were changed to “shoot to stop” the threat. Center body mass was still considered the appropriate aim point in these situations. Attending the Customs and Border Protection Officer’s Basic Course in 2014, the training nor the officer’s mindset changed.
The biggest issue I have with “Shoot to incapacitate” is hobbling the on-scene officer’s Judgment. Who best knows if there is an imminent threat to the loss of life or severe injuries than the on-scene officer? As you all know there are situations that force an immediate response – if not some innocent person or an officer’s life is in immediate peril. Will I have time to call the shift supervisor for permission to use lethal force? Another “major” problem is shooting to incapacitate by shooting someone in the groin is called the femoral artery.
The ONLY thing that keeps an officer from being assaulted and/or killed is the mindset of the person holding the weapon about to be used against the officer. If they are determined to assault/kill the police, they are going to try and achieve that goal regardless of what we do to stop them from doing so. At that point, my only concern is stopping the lethal threat presented to me by the best and fastest action possible. The criminals are not shooting at law enforcement with the intent to incapacitate. Their knives don’t have dull edges. When a criminal uses force against the police, they do so not caring if the officer lives or dies. I will not risk my life or the life of some other person in an attempt to incapacitate someone posing a deadly threat to me just to appease some SJW or politician whose skin is not in the game.
I think shooting someone in the proposed “non-lethal” area and then watching them very likely bleed out internally into their pelvic girdle while unable to employ a tourniquet (or any other means short of a MAST suit), then attempting to justify that action afterward in light of your target area clearly indicating to everyone that your perception was that this was a non-lethal situation at the moment you pulled the trigger might be problematic. Never mind that their “training” consisted of a few rounds on static targets in non-life-threatening scenarios under zero stress despite the widespread availability of simunitions and other force-on-force options that would better simulate the difficulty of performing such a shot on a resistant opponent opening the department and officers up to massive failure-to-train liability and general likelihood of failure.
As a cop for eight years, this policy is ridiculous and only endangers the police officers who work the street every day and not the bosses who sit behind a desk and implement these policies knowing they’ll never face a deadly threat for the rest of their careers. When we deal with people who have weapons that can seriously injure or kill, their mental status shouldn’t be the primary concern and it will only get more cops hurt and injured. There’s a reason our training always focused on center mass and to change that to pacify people that know nothing about our job and feel that no police shooting is ever justified is asinine.
This is totally stupid. No one wants to take a life. But I’ve seen cops shoot. They suck, and under pressure, they suck more. Good luck hitting a knee cap under pressure and with a moving assailant. Loose bullets have to hit something when they miss. Hopefully, it’s not a friendly or an innocent.
Once again, your desk officers and/or people that do not know about shooting are coming up with policies that are not realistic. Even worse, the firearms instructor for the department does not want to make waves, so he/she is agreeing with this concept.
First, we (LE) have always known and stated aiming at legs and arms can not always be done. It looks good when taking your time to shoot paper targets at the range with no stress and not worrying about missing and hitting an innocent person if you miss. Anyone can do this all day, even one-handed.
Second, each situation is different, and each person’s ability is also different, and all officers know that departments are not going to spend the extra money for the extra training, which will be needed, and say what you want, but very few officers train on their own. If not for qualifications, which is not training, some officers would never fire their weapons.
Lastly, you are now telling civilians you will basically shoot legs and arms, so what happens when the situation does not allow you to shoot a leg or arm or the only shot a sniper has is a headshot to save lives? What do you think the citizens are going to say? Do you think they will understand?
We do need training and lots of it, especially training that puts officers in stressful and realistic situations such as simunitions training or similar, not just shooting at paper targets. We must stop playing politics as it pertains to LE procedures.
This is not only dangerous for the officer and bystanders but shows a lack of understanding of a deadly force encounter. If you do not need deadly force, we have numerous less-lethal options that would be better suited than “aim for the leg.” I hope this idea dies on the vine.
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