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How to explain to the public why cops don't shoot to wound

Some people continue to believe that shooting a dangerous subject in the hand or the leg is not only feasible, but preferable to shooting center mass


With a jaw-dropping remark about what the police response should have been during Ohio State terrorist attack, a political pundit named Nomicki Konst proved what little she knows about law enforcement. 

Instead of rapidly ending the threat posed by the knife-wielding assailant on the OSU campus, Konst said on the “The Kelly File” on Fox News that Officer Alan Horujko should have sought to wound the man so he could be questioned later. 

Officer Horujko had faced a subject who had just struck innocent students with a car, and subsequently emerged from his disabled vehicle and stabbed more victims with a knife. The statements Konst made imply that Horujko should have kept the attacker alive — which would have risked the lives of an untold number of bystanders — so he could be interrogated later.

Investigators collect evidence from the pavement as police respond to an attack on campus at Ohio State University. (AP Image)
Investigators collect evidence from the pavement as police respond to an attack on campus at Ohio State University. (AP Image)

The vulgarity of spreading misinformation
Show host Megyn Kelly had asked Konst about Tim Kaine’s tweet about the attack being more “gun violence” when indeed the attacker used a car and a knife to send 11 people to the hospital. 

Konst said, “Senator Kaine should not have rushed to judgment, should have waited for the facts to come in, as should have the police that were there who ended up shooting — who we now know is someone who aligned himself with ISIS.”

Kelly replied, “Did you say the police should have exercised more self-control?”

Konst then said that police should have ensured that the attacker survive “so they can question him, especially if there is some sort of terrorist affiliation.” She added, “You find a way to injure them, harm them, knock them down, so that you can still keep them alive to question them.”

With all due respect to Ms. Konst, I will quote a popular television advertising spot: “That’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works.”

Fortunately for the benefit of the viewing public, Dana Loesch was there to counter. “You have no idea what you’re talking about, Nomicki. The officer is a hero. He absolutely is a hero,” Loesch said. 

The vagaries of public misunderstanding
Some members of the public continue to believe that shooting an armed and dangerous subject in the hand or the leg is not only feasible, but preferable to shooting center mass. 

Not only is shooting to wound not feasible, it is not preferable, and this persistent perception is probably the result of what Force Science Institute Executive Director Dr. Bill Lewinski calls “training by Hollywood.” 

Fictional cops with superhuman capabilities enable more dramatic endings to police procedurals. Scenes in which a gun is shot from the hand of a menacing bad guy simply do not reflect real-life human abilities. 

What Lewinski said back in 2006 remains just as true today: “Hands and arms can be the fastest-moving body parts. For example, an average suspect can move his hand and forearm across his body to a 90-degree angle in 12/100 of a second. He can move his hand from his hip to shoulder height in 18/100 of a second.”

Lewinski then said “The average officer pulling the trigger as fast as he can on a GLOCK — one of the fastest-cycling semi-autos — requires 1/4 second to discharge each round. There is no way an officer can react, track, shoot and reliably hit a threatening suspect’s forearm or a weapon in a suspect’s hand in the time spans involved.”

Lewinski added, “If an officer manages to take a suspect’s legs out non-fatally, that still leaves the offender’s hands free to shoot. His ability to threaten lives hasn’t necessarily been stopped.”

The realities of stopping violence
First and foremost, we must continually educate the public that cops are not trained to “kill” — they are trained to stop a threat of death or great bodily harm to themselves or another person. That means putting rounds in center mass until that threat is on the ground and neutralized. 

It should be noted that an assailant who is on the ground may continue to present a threat — shot doesn’t equal dead. A downed gunman can still squeeze off rounds. A man with a knife can still stab at officers approaching to handcuff him. 

Put simply, ending violence frequently requires violence — sometimes, a considerable amount of it — and violence never looks pretty.

Cops are also trained in the Failure Drill — also known as the Mozambique Drill — when body shots do not end the threat. The next target is the head, ideally in an eye socket. Head shots are more difficult than center mass, but they are immensely effective at ending a deadly threat — ask the Tulsa officer who saved this toddler’s life recently. 

Further, it should be noted that cops are also trained to attempt life-saving first aid following such an incident, but their legal, moral and ethical obligations are secure the scene to render aid to the victims first, not the subject. 

We must educate the public about the priorities of life. For responding officers, the highest priority is the victim(s). The next priority is the lives of other uninvolved citizens. Then it’s their fellow cops. In the very last place is the assailant. American cops know this — some of the American public does not.  

Finally, we must continue to educate the masses about Graham v. Connor, in which the Supreme Court of the United States declared quite clearly that:

“The Fourth Amendment ‘reasonableness’ inquiry is whether the officers’ actions are ‘objectively reasonable’ in light of the facts and circumstances confronting them, without regard to their underlying intent or motivation. The ‘reasonableness’ of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, and its calculus must embody an allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second decisions about the amount of force necessary in a particular situation.”

The finalities of deadly force encounters
It is on us — law enforcement professionals, trainers, educators and leaders — to teach the public, the press and the politicians about the fundamental tenets of law enforcement. We cannot stop trying, even in the face of people who are misinformed. 

The American public is in desperate need of help. The vast majority of Americans have never even heard of SCOTUS decisions like Graham v. Connor or Tennessee v. Garner. Even if they have, most could not fully articulate or understand their meanings. 

However, this is not really their fault. Civics class hasn’t been taught in public schools for decades. We cannot expect students to know about lessons never taught. 

This makes us the teachers we need today.

In an age of TV dramas and Hollywood movies, American law enforcement has the opportunity to educate the nation about real-world deadly force encounters — most importantly, why cops don’t “shoot to wound.” 

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