This summer some citizens rallied to urge the Anchorage Police Department (APD) to change what they called a "shoot to kill" policy. One protester suggested mandating less-than-lethal force by police. This kind of legislation has raised its head before in NY. The proposed legislation (which didn't pass) would have required officers to shoot a suspect in the arm or leg when using deadly force.
The APD's policy is to shoot to stop the threat when deadly force is justified. The Force Science® Institute studies the science behind deadly force encounters. In a cogent paper, the Institute explains why shooting to wound or disarm doesn't make sense.
Hands and arms can be the fastest-moving body parts. An average suspect can move his hand and forearm across his body to a 90-degree angle in 12 hundredths of a second and his hand from his hip to shoulder height in 18 hundredths of a second.
The average officer pulling the trigger as fast as he can on one of the fastest- cycling semi autos requires 25 hundredths of a second to discharge each round.
There's no way an officer can react, track, shoot and reliably hit a threatening suspect's arm or a weapon in a hand in the time spans involved.
Even if the suspect held his weapon arm steady for half a second or more, an accurate hit is highly unlikely. The suspect and his weapon are seldom stationary. The officer himself may be moving as he shoots.
It is misleading to call shooting in the arm or leg "shooting to wound." The upper arms include the brachial artery and the upper legs are extremely vascular. A suspect hit in either limb can bleed out in seconds if one of the major arteries is severed.
If an officer manages to take a suspect's legs out non-fatally, that still leaves the suspect's hands free to shoot. His ability to threaten lives hasn't been stopped.
Modern law enforcement trains that when an encounter justifies deadly force, the officer's intent should be to stop the suspect's threatening behavior as fast as possible. This is most reliably done by shooting for an assailant's center mass. When the risk of failure is death, the officer needs the most reliable use of force.
Ron Avery, a championship shooter and member of the Institute's Force Science Research Center™ (FSRC) Technical Advisory Board says:
"Hitting an arm or a leg on a moving subject with surgical precision will be virtually impossible. I could probably count on one hand the individuals who can make that kind of shot under the pressure of their life on the line. Expecting that level of performance by police officers on an agency-wide basis is ludicrous."
Misses can go on to injure or kill someone else. Even successful limb shots increase the danger to bystanders. Police rounds, designed to penetrate heavy clothing and 10 to 12 inches of ballistic gel, will go through even the biggest arms and hit unintended targets.
Officers know even multiple center-mass hits don't always stop "determined, deranged or drugged" assailants. Avery believes wounding an attacker without incapacitating him "may just infuriate him, so he doubles his effort to kill you." Think bear attack, fellow Alaskans.
Deadly force is justified in Alaska when a person reasonably believes it is necessary for self-defense or defense of another against death or serious physical injury. What sense would it make to restrict officers to less force than we allow citizens to protect themselves and others? Do you want the officer trying to protect you thusly restricted?
Requiring officers to shoot to wound or disarm is a naïve proposition informed by Hollywood, TV, and video and internet games. Officers willingly go into harm's way. It's not Hollywood. There are no scripts or do overs. They must make less than split second decisions based on only the information at hand. At the very least, we should support them in the use of the real-world science of human dynamics, ballistics and the law.
Valerie Van Brocklin was an Alaska state prosecutor from 19xx-xx and a federal prosecutor from 19x-ss and now works in international law enforcement and training. She lives in Anchorage.