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How Not to Respond on the Street

It’s the proverbial “zero dark thirty” and Officer Jones from Gotham P.D. has responded to a suspicious person call at the intersection of Talbot and Baird in the city’s rough east-side section.  Officer Jones stops his patrol car a distance from the male suspect matching the description who has been reported by the caller to be leaning into the driver’s side windows of cars that stop for him on the street.  The caller states that she has seen money being passed and the suspect on foot reaching into his pants front before she hangs up unwilling to leave her name.  Dope dealer is Officer Jones’ thought as he exits the cruiser and begins his approach on foot.  “Hey man, what’s up?” Jones calls to the suspect just before his world turns to Hell.  The male dressed in dark clothing turns away from the officer before he wields back with an outstretched arm, hand filled with a blue steel .40 cal. auto-pistol barking and spitting fire.  “Aw Sh*t!” Jones yells as things go into slow motion and he reverts to auto-pilot, training kicking in with a quick move to his left as his right hand fills with his own Glock and he punches the pistol out toward his assailant and gets busy on the trigger as his pistol breaks his line of sight.  Jones won’t remember how many rounds he fired or much about his own actions.  Jones limbic system with the emotional tripwire of his amygdala has high jacked the emotionally charged visual image of man with a gun trying to kill him.  He has entered a Sympathetic Nervous System reaction or in laymen terms – fight or flight.  This has led to a hormone being secreted in his brain which has caused a cascading effect of physiological changes to take place in his body.  His mental focus is on the threat as his perceptions narrow with tunnel vision, auditory exclusion, and tachypsychia.  Counting rounds?  You got to be kidding me.  Jones is in a fight for his life and such high order thinking is simply not possible.  Officer Jones keeps firing until the suspect is down on the ground and no longer a threat.  Only later after back-up arrives and a responding supervisor asks to inspect his handgun will he realize that he has fired all but two rounds in his Model 19.

Days later Officer Jones will be accused by the media and a citizen group of firing an excessive number of rounds at the suspect who died of his injuries on scene.  14 shots with 11 hits – that’s an excessive number of rounds they exclaim.  “Another example of police excessive force!” they say.

Everyone knows only one or two shots are necessary.

The agency has too many shootings with too many rounds fired.  They are remanded by their civilian oversight panel to train their officers to – fire, stop and assess, and then fire only if more rounds are necessary.


Here We Go Again

Would that it could, that one shot from an officer’s sidearm could effectively stop a deadly suspect in his tracks.  Oh, it can and has happened but the “Myth of the One Shot Stop” has been disproven many years ago.

In 1989 the F.B.I. published Special Agent Urey Patrick’s Handgun Wounding Factors and Effectiveness this study was based on workshops the Bureau had conducted on handgun stopping power after the infamous 1986 Miami shootout.  That shoot-out pitted members of that agency with two murderous armored car robbers – Platt and Matix which resulted in two agents killed and seven others wounded.  Platt after sustaining several gunshot wounds from the agent’s revolvers and semi-auto pistols was able to maneuver and kill Special Agents Dove and Grogan with his carbine.  The Bureau was looking at realistic handgun stopping power.

From S.A. Patrick’s report we read, “Realistic and regular law enforcement training must counterbalance and mentally and emotionally override the fallacy of the one-shot drop still promoted by some media. Short of disrupting the brain or severing the upper spinal column, immediate incapacitation does not occur.” 

“Physiologically, a determined adversary can be stopped reliably and immediately only by a shot that disrupts the brain or upper spinal cord. Failing to hit the center nervous system, massive bleeding from holes in the heart, or major blood vessels of the torso causing circulatory collapse is the only way to force incapacitation upon an adversary, and this takes time.  For example, there is sufficient oxygen within the brain to support full, voluntary action for 10 to 15 seconds after the heart has been destroyed.”

“A review of law enforcement shootings clearly suggests that regardless of the number of rounds fired in a shooting, most of the time only one or two solid torso hits on the adversary can be expected.”


Since the head is a small and illusive target for most officers armed with a handgun, center mass specifically the Mediastinum as Dr. James Williams M.D. from Tactical Anatomy has indicated is the target of choice.  The Mediastinum is the area of the chest from sternum to base of the throat where the heart and major blood vessels reside.  This is the primary target area but as indicated by Special Agent Patrick in his report 24 years ago, even when the heart is destroyed the suspect may stay in the fight for 15 seconds.

15 seconds in a gunfight can be an entire lifetime – and that life just might be yours...

Political Correctness in a Gunfight? 

Science through the hard work of Dr. Bill Lewinski and his associates at Force Science has proven that officers respond to a perceived deadly stimulus and begin firing, and then must react and respond to the threat no longer existing.  In other words an officer is confronted with a man armed with a handgun threatening his life.  He reacts (a strictly mental process) to the threat, draws his duty pistol and begins shooting (response time).  He shoots at his assailant until he perceives the suspect is down or no longer a threat.  In that time period an officer can possibly fire a large number of shots.  Further in that life threatening confrontation can we reasonably expect our officer to stop and assess?  If he or she did and the suspect was still a threat, are we not setting the officer up for possibly getting killed, all in the name of political correctness?

Respond – Fire – Win 

Instead of Assess – Fire – Assess which is actually being forced upon members of at least one agency in this country should be not train our officers to continually assess the confrontation but win it?  To respond to the threat, fire effectively, and win the encounter.  Is that not the reasonable goal of an officer confronted with a deadly threat?  Round count as an indicator of excessive force comes from the land of the mythical one shot stop.  It has not and is not that easy to stop a suspect with murderous intent.  Let’s be real, lives hang in the balance.

One Shot Drops Surviving the Myth; FBI Bulletin October 2004

Handgun Wounding Factors and Effectiveness; FBI Academy Firearms and Tactics Unit Report

Dr. James Williams Tactical Anatomy Website