subject line for this email is more than a little “tongue in cheek”
There have been 2 officer involved shootings this week that commandeered the news cycle. It’s odd that they’d get so much time in a week where we’ve had 2 ISIS bombings, a mass stabbing, and who knows how many more murders in Chicago. (In August, in Chicago, a model of gun control where guns are functionally illegal as defensive tools, there were 78 homicides and 448 people shot.)
When police make mistakes, they need to be held accountable. But rioting, burning cars, and pop-media court is NOT the way to do it. A lot of people…both in the media and around the country, are coming to conclusions about what happened that are based on emotion and limited facts.
I understand that many are spinning a narrative to advance an agenda, but if we’re to understand what we’re seeing on TV and the internet after an officer involved shooting, it’s important to understand some of the dynamics of what’s going on in a dynamic, high stress shooting situation.
People think that law enforcement are at the pinnacle of proficiency with firearms. Law enforcement is my literal and figurative family and I’m not about to slight them in any way.
But the truth is way more complicated…
There is a perception among the general public that carrying a gun 10-12 hours a day makes all officers good shooters.
Shooting well under stress isn’t learned by osmosis. It takes not only practice, but frequent perfect practice with efficient and effective technique.
Police departments are political entities that are subject to the ever-changing whims of mayors and city councils in addition to the rule of law.
Many politicians have a schizophrenic relationship with gun training. They don’t want a bunch of “trained killers” with badges and guns and they don’t want to spend a minute or penny more than necessary on training. At the same time, they expect officers to execute 100% perfect judgement in extreme stress situations where their life is at risk, stop all threats with a single shot, never miss, and NEVER hit an innocent bystander.
They’re expected to do this, regardless of whether they just finished a double shift because they’re covering for a fellow officer on medical leave because his kid is dying of cancer, are exhausted because they have a newborn with colic at home and haven’t slept in days, are stressed because they just found out their department is cutting their medical benefits…again, are dealing with wife/parent/financial/or other personal issues, or just came from a call where a cute 3 year old kid was being burned with cigarettes by his parents. (At this point, if you’re NOT in law enforcement, you must think I’m exaggerating. If you are in law enforcement, you’re probably nodding your head—sadly.)
Some departments give their officers a box of ammo per year and have them qualify once a year…and expect them to perform at the same level as a Delta Force commando.
Others have them qualify 2 or 4 times a year and may even shoot monthly, which is definitely better, but keep in mind that a life or death shooting is like a last-second, game-winning play in the Super Bowl or NBA Championships and the simple truth is that you need to practice more than a few times a year to perform predictably well in high stress situations.
So then we have officer involved shootings, like what happened in Tulsa and in Charlotte this week.
The helicopter, body cam, and dash cam videos can make it seem SO cut and dried, but it’s not. It’s not at all. And in many cases, video complicates the issue instead of simplifying it.
What I’m about to say doesn’t come from any insider knowledge about specific incidents. But I’ve done enough high stress training, studied high stress psychology enough, and analyzed enough lethal force incidents to see some possibilities that many people might not.
I wrote this article on Wednesday. I posted it Thursday evening. After putting our boys to bed, I checked the news to see how things were in Charlotte and saw that the officer in Tulsa has been charged with first degree manslaughter. Even so, it’s worth it to understand how I was looking at it BEFORE I knew that charges had been announced.
In the Tulsa incident, we’re only seeing a small part of what happened. The footage begins after aerial support is on scene, as well as multiple officers besides the responding officer. There was time for her to approach the car, assess the suspect, determine that he most likely had an altered mental status, call for backup, and time for backup to respond.
By that time, the suspect had refused to respond to multiple commands.
The first takeaway is that most people don’t realize is that when an officer has their gun drawn, a suspect’s actions put them into one of 4 categories…
They are either attacking, complying, trying to limit loss (bargaining or working through denial), or delaying (sometimes with sweet words) to create an advantage to destroy you or the officer more effectively.
This concept of 4 options is a tiny part of an incredible book from Ken Murray called, “Training At The Speed Of Life.” As far as an officer is concerned, if the suspect is not complying 100%, they’re still a threat. Words mean nothing and action means everything.
When a suspect is facing one or more officers with their guns drawn, they should comply or EXPECT the possibility of being shot. Good or bad, in the real world, this is not the time to explain, bargain, or negotiate. That time may come after you are in cuffs and the officer is not in fear for their life or in an adrenalized state. If not, it might come in front of a judge. Either way, when guns come out the suspect has only one good course of action, no matter how distasteful…comply. You don’t have to like it. But it’s like gravity or the bathroom scale…not liking it doesn’t change it.
The second and third takeaways have to do with sympathetic inter-limb interaction and the startle response.
I did not specifically see either of these happen. I did not specifically hear of either of these happening. But I want to mention them because they are realities of high stress situations that may not be reflected in helicopter, body, or dash cam footage, and what you see may not be as clear cut as what it seems.
Startle response: One of the common reactions that people have when they are startled is to make a fist. It’s VERY common in extreme stress situations where multiple officers have firearms drawn and fingers on the trigger that when any one of them fires, others also fire. In fact, it’s one of the scenarios that skews the number of shots fired per incident upwards.
If you’ve been Tased or been around a Taser (not a stun gun), you are familiar with how jarring the sound of a Taser being fired is…in an extreme stress situation, the startle response could be similar to a firearm being discharged. If you were in an adrenalized state and your finger happened to be on the trigger, or even on the trigger guard, it wouldn’t surprise me for someone to have an unintentional discharge if a Taser went off next to them.
Normally, I would use the terms accidental discharge or negligent discharge, but this isn’t a black and white situation AND WE DON’T EVEN KNOW IF THAT’S WHAT HAPPENED. I’m only mentioning it because a LOT of people are assuming malicious intent on the part of the officer and this is just one of many reasons why she shot…even if she didn’t intend to.
Sympathetic inter-limb interaction: When your body is in a sympathetic (adrenalized) state, it doesn’t respond like it normally does. It goes into “reptile” mode. You can have a situation where an officer is covering a suspect with their finger on the trigger or on the trigger guard and try to use their radio with their other hand. (or it could be you trying to call 911) When the brain sends the impulse to the left hand to squeeze the button to talk or dial, it also sends the same impulse to the right hand…which can squeeze the trigger unintentionally.
Again, I didn’t see this happen, but it’s one of many possible alternative—non-malicious–storylines that could have happened.
Both of these are reasons why you MUST be fanatical about keeping your trigger finger straight, stiff, and rigid along the frame until your sights are aligned and you intend to fire.
Reality vs. Video: The next thing to realize is that watching something on video seems like it is the same as seeing it live, but it’s not. When you experience something in real time, you make decisions in real time based on an ever-changing reality. The speed at which things happen in real life limits the number of details that you’re able to absorb at any instant.
If you watch a video of that event with no prior knowledge, you will probably make some of the same judgement calls as if you were there. You’ll see more details and some calls will be different because of the difference in stress levels.
But if you are told how a video ends, or have watched it before, you’ll make judgements at the beginning of the video based on the fact that you already know what happened at the end of the video…which doesn’t match reality at all. Each time you watch it, you’ll pick up additional details…details that wouldn’t be possible to pick up in real life…and you’ll end up coming to conclusions that may not have been possible in real life in real speed.
With almost every officer involved shooting video, there is a lead-in that frames what you’re about to see and primes your mind to look for specific things. In the absence of other information, that bias will make it hard to objectively view videos that don’t have a clear good guy and clear bad guy…and may in fact, make a VERY grey situation look black and white, even if it’s not.
Finally, for today, there’s Visual Perception Delay. We THINK that when someone has their hands raised that they’re not a threat. We THINK that when someone reaches into a car to grab something, that officers should have time to perceive what they have in their hands before reacting.
Life’s not that simple. Vision is not that simple.
The reality is that our mind is consciously processing what happened visually a fraction of a second prior. When you think about it, it makes sense…light enters the eye, the eye flexes so an images is focused on the back of the eye where the image goes through a chemical process to convert light into electricity. That electricity goes to the optic chiasm and then to the visual cortex where the images from the 2 eyes are combined into a single image. THEN that image is sent to other parts of the brain to get processed. This process can’t happen instantly, so we have a delay between reality and what we see.
How’s this play out?
I do a drill occasionally where either I or people I’m shooting with hold an airsoft or laser gun to the head of a BOB punching dummy acting as a hostage and have another shooter 10-20ish feet away. I’ll calmly talk to the shooter and make sure they have their sights aligned on my face, finger on the trigger, slack taken up. I tell them to shoot me the instant they see me move. Then I’ll proceed to take my gun that’s pointed at the hostage’s head, point it at the shooter, and shoot them before they get their first shot off.
When we have time, we’ll rotate shooters. Action beats reaction 9 times out of 10 regardless of who the shooters are (within reason). It works with a hostage. It works with hands up in the air. It works with a gun in the back pocket. I can see it working while reaching into a car.
When a properly trained officer sees furtive (fast or jerky) and non-compliant movement, they know that they’re behind the curve and have to make very difficult, INSTANT decisions. These decisions are EASY to judge after the fact when the viewer is calmly watching a video for the 2nd, 3rd, or 10th time. They’re not so easy when you’re making them at the speed of life.
With that in mind, I encourage you to support your local law enforcement and law enforcement in general. Train hard, train often, and do scenario based force on force training whenever possible so that you understand the realities and complexities of high stress shooting.
Whether you have local force on force training available, >this< is an at-home training that’s based on the findings of a stress-shooting research lab that ran approximately 100 force on force classes per month for 3.5 years. It’s not based on ego, dogma, or institutional memory…it’s scientifically based training for shooting and fighting with a gun that’s been ruthlessly tested and refined. Learn more now by going >HERE<
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