Understanding Officer Involved Shootings

via APD on Twitter

Everyone has an opinion on officer involved shootings. Few people have been in one.

Bridging the gap between theory and reality creates understanding between the police and the communities they protect.

The effects of adrenaline on the brain can result in tunnel vision, auditory exclusion, time distortion, and a decrease in fine motor skills. The body feels a surge of energy, eyes widen, blood pumps faster, muscles tense, breath is faster, and hands tremble.

These factors explain why some officers mistake the small shiny object in a suspect’s hands as a weapon rather than a cellphone, especially when the suspect is resisting and trying to evade police.

According to the FBI, even the best trained marksman will shoot half as well during high-stress incidents. This is why “warning shots” are reckless. That bullet has to go somewhere, and what goes up must come down.

Aiming for arms, legs or objects in a suspect’s hand is also reckless. Shooting at the smallest part of a moving body increases the odds of missing the shot. That bullet will to go somewhere unintended. 

This is why police are trained to aim center mass at the torso, because it is the least maneuverable and largest surface area. Lethality is as much a matter of public safety as officer safety.

Sometimes citizens believe an OIS was overkill after learning that officers fired multiple shots. The first point worth noting is how many officers perceived an active lethal threat and individually responded. The second is muscle memory versus perception-reaction time.

Muscle memory allows a person to act quickly, almost free of thought. Whereas the perception-reaction time is the process of observing a threat, understanding what is unfolding, deciding on your course of action, and the action itself. This process is constantly repeated as a situation changes.

Muscle memory falls between the two processes of reaction and often accounts for three to four additional rounds fired before the officer’s brain can communicate to their finger to stop pulling the trigger.

As former FBI Special Agent Jason Helfer stated,

“Human beings are not robots. A job title, training or experience does not make a police officer better able to simultaneously pay attention to, and process, sensory input than a civilian.”

Police cannot out-train biology and physiology.

All departments have policy detailing how to handle lethal encounters. For example: if a subject posses a lethal threat, officers must first have lethal coverage before attempting to use a less-lethal tool. This is because less-lethal tools are only effective a fraction of the time. Failure to follow this policy, resulting in an officers injury or death, allows the department and local municipality to avoid paying the officer’s medical bills and/or death benefits.

Cops don’t always render aid immediately following a shooting.

This is because officers first need to secure the scene. In most instances, it’s obvious the suspect is no longer a threat after the gun has fallen several feet away. In some instances, an officer’s view of the suspect an be obstructed or a suspect will be facing away from police with the gun still in their possession. In other instances, there could beo other suspects in the area that would create a threat to the officer if he were to immediately render aid.

Policing is a dangerous career. It involves complex situations that the media sometimes fail to articulate to the public.

Next time there’s an OIS in the news, consider the other side of the situation, wait to pass judgment until the facts come out, and remember that police aren’t robots. They are human beings battling the same instinctual responses to danger that everyone else experiences in a life or death situation.

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