Police Are Trained To Shoot To Kill And Punished If They Fire A Warning Shot

And You Wonder Why So Many Citizens Are Killed By Cops?

–David Grace (www.DavidGraceAuthor.com)

Because of recently publicized police shootings I want to talk about the formal and informal training of uniformed police officers.

Bad Systems Yield Bad Results

Problems with how people act often have their roots in the system that those people operate under.

Finding, judging and eventually punishing individuals for conduct you don’t like on a case-by-case basis will be, at best, only partially successful in curtailing bad behavior.

Fixing the system that gives rise to the bad conduct is almost always a cheaper, faster and more effective way to prevent it.

How I Think Uniformed Officers Are Trained

I think I understand some of the principles uniformed officers are formally or informally trained to live by, but maybe I’m wrong. If you were trained as a uniformed police officer and I’m wrong, please correct me.

Here are some of the principles I think uniformed officers are trained to follow.

  • Take Charge: Exercise dominance over every person you deal with. You’re not there to debate with people or to beg them to cooperate with you. You’re there to respond to a potentially dangerous or criminal situation. In order to get the information and cooperation you need, let everyone know that you’re in charge and that they have to take orders from you.
  • Punish Disobedience: If people know that there’s no downside to running from you then they’ll run all the time, but if they know that if they run that you’ll make them suffer for it, they’ll be far less likely to run in the first place.
  • No Warning Shots: If you feel that you might have to shoot someone, you cannot fire a warning shot. Warning shots can ricochet and hit innocent people. A warning shot also might incite the suspect to charge at you. If you shoot, shoot to kill.
  • Avoid Close Combat: If anyone defies your orders and brandishes anything that might possibly be used as a weapon do not approach the individual and physically engage him. You could be stabbed or injured and he might grab your gun. Instead stand back, and if he continues to defy your clear orders, shoot him. Your job is to act in the way that is safest for you. He has the option to obey your commands or not. If he refuses then his getting shot is on him.
  • Shoot To Kill: If you shoot, do not aim for a shoulder or a leg. Aim for center mass. If you aim at a smaller target and miss, the subject might be able to close with you and stab you, assault you or take your gun before you get the chance to fire again.
  • Keep On Shooting: If you shoot, keep shooting until the subject stops moving. If the subject is on PCP or some other drug it might take several shots to bring him down. If you shoot only once he might be able to close with you and stab you, assault you or take your gun before you can fire again

Essentially, these rules boil down to this instruction:

If someone appears to possibly be a threat and he defies your orders, it’s OK to kill him.

I’m sure that uniformed officers think these rules are proper, that if people simply followed orders they wouldn’t get killed. If they don’t, then getting killed is the price they pay for disobeying the police.

These Rules Are Inappropriate For Policing A Civilian Population

The thing is, these are the kinds of rules that might be appropriate for an occupying army trying to police an enemy population in time of war. These are the types of rules that under rare circumstances might be appropriate when dealing with the one-quarter of one percent of the population that are violent, crazed, gun-carrying felons.

They aren’t the kinds of rules that are appropriate for dealing with the remaining 99.75% of the population.

The 99.75% of the population that are not armed, violent felons expect the police to help them, not dominate them. They expect the police to protect them, not shoot them. They expect the police to demonstrate reasonable conduct suitable for dealing with a civilian population in suburban Oklahoma, not practice a “Do-what-I say-or-Ill-kill-you” form of conduct that would be more appropriate for marines operating in the tribal areas of Afghanistan.

Unacceptable Police Training

As civilians, as citizens, we should find it unacceptable that:

  • A police officer who is supposed to protect us is told that if he kills a person whom he thinks has a gun he’ll be commended but if instead of killing him he fires a warning shot that he’ll be punished or fired;
  • A police officer who is supposed to protect us is trained that when he shoots that he should not aim at a thigh or a shoulder but rather that he should aim for the chest, essentially that he should shoot to kill;
  • A police officer who is supposed to protect the citizens is trained not to fire just once, but rather to shoot again and again and again until his target is on the ground and no longer moving.
  • A police officer who is supposed to be protecting us is trained to shoot to kill possibly unarmed citizens who do not follow his instructions.

The Balance Between Officer Safety And Killing The People You’re Supposed To Protect

Yes, it’s probably safer for the police to stand back ten feet and put 19 bullets into a man who refuses their orders to drop a six-inch knife like the San Francisco PD did a few months ago instead of moving in and knocking the knife away with their batons.

Yes, it’s probably safer for an officer to kill man who reaches for his wallet than to step away from the car and hold his fire.

Yes, it’s probably safer for an officer to put four bullets into the chest of a man holding something that might be a gun but wasn’t, instead of shooting him only once.

Yes, it’s probably safer for an officer to kill a thirteen-year-old boy holding a toy gun than to fire a bullet into the dirt in front of the kid to shock him into dropping the apparent gun.

But from the point of view of the citizens whom the police are supposed to be protecting, not killing, those are not good enough reasons for their fatal conduct.

Those are risks you’re expected to take when you sign up for the job.

What The Rules Should Be

I think that the citizens who are supposedly being protected by the police they hire and pay for expect the rules to be:

  • These are your fellow citizens. In the long run, acting like members of an invading army occupying hostile territory makes your job harder, not easier. Civilian police need the respect and cooperation of the people they’re supposed to protect, so members of the public should be treated with respect unless and until they prove they don’t deserve it.
  • Your job is to catch criminals not punish them. If people run, let the D.A. add a resisting arrest charge and ask the judge to give him an extra couple of months in lock-up. When you beat people who run from you or disrespect you, you just become a thug with a badge.
  • If someone appears to have a firearm, a sword, an ax or other long weapon and your Taser has been ineffective then, as a last resort, fire a warning shot before shooting them.
  • If someone defies your orders and brandishes something small (not a firearm) that might be used as a weapon, a knife, a wrench, or the like, use your baton. Do not shoot him.
  • If you must shoot, aim for a shoulder or a leg.
  • If you shoot, unless the person is charging or still aiming a firearm at you, stop shooting after the first shot.

How Should The Job Be Done?

I suspect uniformed officers will hate these kinds of rules, but if their idea of being a cop is that they should be able to stand back ten feet and put five slugs into someone who might be unarmed because he’s not obeying their orders then I think they’ve got the wrong idea of what the job is and how it should be done, and that they shouldn’t be a cop anymore than I should.

Fix The Problem At Its Source — Change Police Officer Training

If we want to stop uniformed police officers from killing citizens we have to start at the source. We have to change the uniformed officers’ training and the rules they live by.

Riots, demonstrations, protests, prosecutions, even jail time will not stop the police from killing unarmed people so long as the cops are told that if someone who might or might not be armed disobeys their orders that they’re fully entitled to shoot to kill.

–David Grace (www.DavidGraceAuthor.com)

To see a searchable list of all David Grace’s columns in chronological order, CLICK HERE

To see a list of David Grace’s columns sorted by topic/subject matter, CLICK HERE.



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