Shooting center mass: I'm told we kill everyone...
In part two of this three-part series, PoliceOne Contributor Roy Bedard recalls a discussion he’d had with a police trainer in the Czech Republic
The Czech Republic is one of the most modern countries in the former communist block, and is quickly becoming a recognized leader in the global law enforcement profession. They are considered quite modern and up to date on western theory, technology, and applications. They produce one of the world’s finest firearms, and are great contributors to the advancement of law enforcement methodologies. Not long ago, while I was giving presentations in the Czech Republic, I was confronted by an unusual perspective that has comparative value to our system of policing here in the United States.
A group of police officers had invited me to visit their police firing range, a modern indoor facility on academy property. The firing range was beautiful — well constructed with proper protective devices in place. Full body silhouette targets could be easily changed behind the hot line, and mechanically sent to various distances. There were men and women in-service who were qualifying with their Czech pistols.
When the signal was given to fire a large plume of smoke arose from the line. During the first volley each officer shot about four or five rounds. I squinted my eyes and looked downrange. Though born with poor vision, my eyes were good enough to see that not one single target had a bullet hole in center mass. Then, scanning the targets more closely I saw what appeared to be holes — lots of holes — in the legs of the target.
“My God,” I thought to myself, “this cannot be coincidence.”
I looked over my shoulder to the range master, who was preparing for the next sequence. “Why are they shooting in the legs?” I said, half smiling, trying to approach the question casually.
“This was a non-lethal drill,” he said without hesitation.
I felt like a fish out of water. I was startled by his answer. It no sense to me. “But if you are shooting at them, how is it a non-lethal drill?”
Looking at me as strangely as I was looking at him, he replied, “We shoot in the extremities, to wound them.”
We’d a reached an impasse on the issue, so we dropped it and the drills continued.
During lunch, I sat with the trainer and reopened the conversation.
“So tell me again about shooting in the legs?”
“Oh, I forgot, you are an American. You kill everyone!”
I thought to myself, “Whoa, hold on there Skippy, you’ve got to be kidding me — we kill everyone?!”
I guess he could read the incredulous look on my face because he said, “Look, I’ve been to the U.S. I’ve trained there. You teach all shots go to center mass followed by a head shot.”
“Yeah, but…” I said, my mind racing for an intelligent response. “There are reasons why we shoot at those locations.”
I began by telling him about deadly force in the United States. I was sure he had missed this part of his classroom instruction — perhaps it was the language barrier, I didn’t know — so I was going defend our method of using deadly force and outline the reasons why we only shot center mass.
I spoke rapidly, trying to outline our entire concept of police use of force. I told him that it was the largest target area of the body and the easiest to hit. I felt like I needed a chalkboard, some chalk. I wanted to draw pictures and graphs, use arrows and lines, and write smart-sounding definitions. I wanted to ‘wow’ him with my deep understanding of this issue and make him take back that last statement. I was, after all, the ‘expert’ they’d invited in from a foreign country. Besides, I couldn’t just let it go.
“We don’t shoot to kill,” I said. “We shoot to stop.”
He nodded and said, “Yeah, but that’s where your vitals are and a shot there would likely kill you.”
His arrogance was remarkable. I told him that it was our job to stop a subject, and the chest was the best area for doing that.
“Have you ever been shot in the leg?” He asked.
“Well, that will stop you — it is very painful.”
Now he was really getting under my skin.
“OK,” I said, “but surely your officers under stress are not going to demonstrate the marksmanship qualities they have on the range.” How in the world do you expect them to hit a skinny leg in motion?”
I had him this time.
“Here in the Czech Republic, most of our shootings occur in very close distance, two to three meters?” he retorted.
“Yeah,” I said without thinking, “It’s pretty much the same for us.”
Wrinkling his face, he replied, “You don’t think you can hit a leg at a distance of three to six feet?”
I reeled back — this guy was pissing me off.
“Okay,” I said, “but what if the round passes through? What about the round striking an innocent person who happened to be on the other side of the target?” Now I had him against the ropes, surely these cops are mindful of the dynamic environment in which law enforcement plays out.
Again, he responded without hesitation. “That’s another reason why we aim to the legs. At the distance we usually fire — remember, two to three meters — the bullet has a trajectory towards the ground of only a few feet. A pass through is rare — we use hollow point bullets — but if it does occur, it is not likely to travel much farther.”
He paused, and continued, “You see Roy, here in the Czech Republic we don’t always shoot to kill. Sometimes we shoot to stop — it’s our non lethal shooting.”
I countered, “Non-lethal shots… huh? C’mon, You know, there is probably not a single square inch on the body that is not packed with veins, arteries, or major group of blood rich capillaries that once shot will cause the subject to bleed out.”
As soon as I spoke I realized was now becoming indignant and desperate.
“Yes sir, there is always that possibility, but with medical technology today it is rare that a non-vital shot will ever result in death.”
I thought back to something I heard in the academy years ago. It was meant to be inspirational, but had also become a statistical fact in countries with modern emergency services.
“If you are shot, and you know you are shot, you will probably survive the wound.”
I’ve repeated this many times in the classroom but never had I considered it from the other guy’s perspective. It would be true that if a bad guy was shot and he knew he was shot, he too would likely survive the wound. I guessed that most cops — if forced to take a round in a gunfight — would also rather be shot in the leg than in the heart or head, based solely on the probability of survival. It was intuitive and didn’t require a survey. But I wasn’t done yet. I was representing decades of solid professional American law enforcement philosophy. This whole, “we don’t shoot to kill” concept was a cornerstone of modern police training.
I came back with a fastball. “Well, what if the guy is shooting at you? Dropping him to the ground with a leg shot may stop the forward attack but it is not likely to stop the threat?” he can still fire at you — and you wont have time to assess the continued threat to see if he stopped!
He grinned at me, “If he is shooting at you? Well, then we use lethal shots — two to the chest, one to the head.”
He smacked it out of the park. If you are being shot at, well, then you use lethal shots — two to the chest and one on the head. Of course you do!
I couldn’t believe it. I had never heard anyone do that before, but this guy had given a reasonable explanation for non-lethal shots. My thoughts on the issue had clearly been on autopilot for years. After years of linear thinking my view of deadly force had actually come to a fork in the road.