Hidden Reality Of Law Enforcement Accuracy after the San Bernardino shootings


We’re 1 year out from the San Bernardino shootings and I want to revisit some of the valuable lessons that came out of the event.

There are some opportunities to look at what happened and either make changes to your training or redouble your training in expectation that similar attacks will happen again in the near future.

One of the statistics that I and many other instructors and authors have used in recent years is that the average hit ratio for law enforcement is 12%, 15%, or 20%, depending on the study. I’ve used it as a basis for why civilians need to train as much or more than law enforcement and why law enforcement needs to train more.

On one hand, those numbers are accurate. On the other hand, they paint a picture that’s confusing and leads people (myself included in the past) to false conclusions.

Today, we’re going to dig into the reality of the numbers, and how they apply to you…regardless of whether you’re military, law enforcement, or a civilian defender.

I have used the 15% law enforcement hit ratio number quite a bit over the years to explain and defend the need for continual training…but it doesn’t tell the whole story.

Accurate statistics on officer involved shootings are incredibly hard to find. Law enforcement agencies are led by elected officials and political appointees. Political pressure dictates that incredibly low hit statistics are under-reported. Fear of appearing like a “bunch of trained killers” means that some departments squelch or under-report their high hit ratios. And, many departments simply don’t report any statistics.

So, we’re left with individual department statistics, like NYC, LA, Baltimore, etc. and FBI & NIJ compiled statistics. On the surface, these reports support the low hit ratios. But dig down one shallow layer, and the story gets VERY interesting.

On one hand, that number includes sniper engagements with a scoped rifle, instances of SWAT shooting out street lights before a hit, suicides, negligent discharges that resulted in hits, and shooting animals…whether they’re attack dogs or putting down deer/moose/elk that have been hit by a car. Keep in mind that some departments report these types of engagements and others don’t.

But here’s where San Bernardino fits in…24 officers fired 440 rounds.  They struck the male attacker with 25 rounds and the female attacker with 15 rounds.  That’s a 9% hit ratio on the surface…but in that situation, 9% was good…especially when you consider that the # of rounds fired to incapacitate a single enemy combatant in wartime environments ranges between 1,000 rounds and more than 100,000 rounds.

Law enforcement hit statistics are a jumbled mess. They mix together the examples I gave above and treat carbine, shotgun, and pistol engagements equally.

They treat engagements where the attacker had a bolt action, semi-auto, and full-auto equally.

They treat distance equally.

They treat light levels equally.

They treat single vs. multiple attackers equally.

They treat single vs. multiple officers equally.

They treat the attacker’s weapon or lack of weapon equally.

Some departments omit incidents where officers fired at suspects and missed altogether, regardless of the number of rounds fired. They mix them all together and out pops the 15% statistic.

San Bernardino had a number of these factors…shoulder mounted weapons, multiple suspects, multiple officers, and distance.

What I’m going to share with you was inspired by a piece that Thomas Aveni from the Police Policy Studies Council and Force Science Research Center published 13 years ago, but it applies today and it will continue to apply tomorrow.

Even though it’s 13 years old, the truths in it are self-evident and explain how the 15% statistic can be both true and deceiving at the same time.

It is also an indication of what kinds of things we should be practicing.

Some of these will be applicable to San Bernardino, and some won’t.

To start with, officers generally shoot 20-30% worse in low light conditions than in full light conditions. This one’s simple…DO LOW LIGHT TRAINING!

80% of law enforcement shootings occur in low light conditions and it’s fair to assume that civilian numbers are similar. That’s why a full ¼ of the drills in Dry Fire Training Cards are low light drills.

4 years of data from LAPD showed that hit ratios were 51% when one officer was involved, 23% when two officers were involved, and 9% (an 82% decrease in accuracy) when more than two officers were involved….there were 24 officers involved in San Bernardino.

When multiple officers are involved, the average number of rounds fired increased by 40-118%. (This is particularly important for concealed carry holders, volunteer company security teams, and volunteer church security teams to understand)

Keep in mind that things get real complicated REAL quickly…multiple officer shootings are 3 times more likely to involve attackers with long guns (rifles/carbines/shotguns) and this tends to increase the shooting distance.  Both “suspects” in San Bernardino had carbines as primary weapons and pistols as secondary weapons.

That is one reason why the “Tactical Arts Group” that I train with practices engaging steel silhouette and reduced silhouette targets with a pistol at 100, 120, and 200 yards, depending on the range that we’re at, and why we do the same with the officers we train/train with.

You simply don’t know when you’ll get in a gunfight, what you’ll be armed with, and what the bad guy will be armed with. If you do know you’re going to be in a fight, you’d have a group of friends with carbines and someone on overwatch with a scoped rifle and pick a time and place that stacks the odds ridiculously in your favor.

That is not the nature of reactive shooting. It’s not what most law enforcement or almost all civilian defenders will face. The initial terms and conditions of the fight will be dictated by the bad guy and you’ll have to work with the tools, training, and ability that you have with you at that instant.

If I’m in a Super Wal-Mart alone in the gun department and shooting breaks out 100 yards away in the produce section, I’m going to beat feet on out the door and call police.

But if my wife and kids are buying groceries when shots are fired in produce, I’m flipping the switch and getting in the fight without hesitation, regardless of what the bad guy’s armed with, what I’m armed with, or how far away I am…but only because I know my DOPE on my carry gun (Click here to see 5/5 on steel at 100 yards with a Glock 26 sub-compact)

If you’re law enforcement, you need to think about a situation like this…do you KNOW your sidearm and your ability well enough to close on the shooter and engage as soon as the opportunity arises, or do you need to delay 1, 2, or more minutes to go to your car, get a long gun, and have to re-enter the building?

So, what can you do RIGHT NOW based on what happened in San Bernardino and the clarified officer involved shooting statistics?

  1. Practice low light dry fire using Dry Fire Training Cards and, if possible, low light live fire.
  2. Have a personal active shooter plan. In addition to looking for exits, I ALWAYS look for fire extinguishers everywhere I go. I know that I can always “spray them with the white stuff at a distance & hit them with the red thing” to predictably and effectively eliminate a threat.Thanks to irrational fear about deaths from structure fires (which are way less common than deaths from violent attacks), fire extinguishers are legally required for all commercial buildings in the US…usually in multiple locations in plain sight and oftentimes with lit or glow in the dark signs pointing to them.
  3. Train, Train, and Train some more. To get the most bang for your time and money, I suggest that you do 80-90% of your training at home with dry fire training. If you need guidance in addition to drills, I suggest Concealed Carry Masters Course, the Force Recon 30-10 Pistol course, and the Insight Deadly Accuracy home study course for extreme stress shooting situations.
  4. Remember that body armor is designed to preserve life, but it won’t necessarily make someone immune to the effects of being shot.  The force of the bullet still gets absorbed by the body, can break ribs, and easily take an attacker out of the fight.  Multiple hits in quick succession can overwhelm the central nervous system and cause an “electrical shutdown”, or a temporary knockout, regardless of whether any permanent damage has been done.  If an attacker has plates in, the pelvis, head, legs, and feet (under barriers) are still effective targets.  NEVER think you’re beat just because a sociopathic turd has on body armor.

And, remember, people who buy ANY of these products (or save $226.99 on the BIG Sealed Mindset bundle >HERE<) before 11:59PM Friday December 2nd PST will be automatically entered to win a free SIRT laser training pistol, laser reactive targets, the Concealed Carry Masters Course, 30-10 Pistol, Dry Fire Training Cards, and Urban Survival Playing Cards!

So, whether it’s for yourself or a loved one, take action NOW!

Questions? Comments? Please share by commenting below…

Here’s the link to Thomas Aveni’s paper:  http://www.theppsc.org/Staff_Views/Aveni/OIS.pdf



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  • Nathan

    Reply Reply December 20, 2016

    The video at the link for “steel at 100 yards with a Glock 26” isn’t there. Any chance you could fix the link? I’d be interested in seeing it.


    • Ox

      Reply Reply January 5, 2017

      I thought I replied sooner and I apologize…the video link is fixed.

  • Landis Aden

    Reply Reply December 2, 2016

    Good article. Good work. Will distro to other interested folks.
    Real life can get messy.

  • Gerald Re

    Reply Reply December 5, 2015

    I have a Viridian green laser. It is good in any light. I check it everyday and make sure I have a new battery available if the light starts to “waver”. I know..one should not DEPEND on a laser. Well, I can draw and shoot as soon as the laser is on target and that is as fast as it gets.
    I practice dry firing with snap caps everyday.
    Ox, good articles.
    Gerald Re

  • Doug

    Reply Reply December 4, 2015

    I just want to point out that actions by Police and actions by armed citizens will not encompass the same skills. As a concealed carrier I have no use for shooting at a distance. If I did, I surely would be prosecuted for my action. That should probably have been qualified in the article. Even if the shooter and my family are a 100 yards away, I doubt that, as a civilian, the defense of others could be applied. I know, I know, anything can happen. But in all probability a 100 yd. shot won’t be something I should be spending time training for, certainly not when I should be training in low light.

    • Ox

      Reply Reply December 4, 2015

      Doug, you may be right and I like the way you think…if you’ve got an 80% or greater chance that a self defense shooting will happen in low light and a <1% chance that it will happen at 100 yards, I'd spend the majority of your time doing low light training. It's DEFINITELY easier to turn off the lights in your house at night and practice dry fire drills than it is to find somewhere that you can practice 100 yard pistol shooting. Thanks for pointing that out.

      My situation is different...I know that I've killed 3/3 coyotees at 80-95 yards in the last year with my carry gun when I wasn't hunting. If I could escape in an active shooter situation situation, I would. But if my family is in danger, I KNOW I have the ability to take the shot at the lengths that I'd be dealing with in any indoor venue (malls & big box stores) in my area. It would be a horrible choice to make in the middle of a horrible situation with TONS of variables and lots of ways for things to go wrong. It would depend on the reality of the situation on the ground at the time...bystanders, backstop, # of attackers, etc. but if I had a reasonable shot at taking actions that could save my family (which includes staying out of the morgue & jail myself), I would.

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