Do cops ever shoot to injure?

To be fair, handguns can be quite accurate even at a reasonable long range. I’ve regularly knocked over #3 cans at 25 meters with a Browning Hi-Power or Ruger Mark II. However, the cans weren’t moving, they certainly weren’t threatening me, and I wasn’t under stress. In a realistic defense scenerio under simulated stress, even an experienced shooter in an otherwise ideal environment is doing pretty good to get inside the 9 ring on a B27 target.

Shooting the gun out of someone’s hand, or shooting a suspect in the arm or leg is not only infeasible for a shootist of even superior ability, it’s neither safe nor inherently less harmful. For one, a shot to an isolated target like a hand or leg is less likely to hit and more likely to pass through and through, posing a hazard to bystanders, where as an accurate shot to the center torso is more likely to stop inside the torso, or at least lose enough energy to pose only a marginal hazard to someone behind. Another point is that a shot to the arm or leg is likely to do serious, permanent injury and can even easily result in death; severing the femoral artery in the leg is likely to be just as lethal as a shot to the heart.

And the fact is that a police officer, like anybody else, has no business dropping the hammer on another person unless they have a reasonable belief that this person poses a realistic threat to life or limb of the officer or others. Peace officers have a somewhat expanded set of responsibilities dictating when the use of lethal force is allowed–an officer may, for instance, decide to shoot a fleeing suspect on the basis of the suspect being armed and representing a threat to the public at large, whereas a private citizen would be generally permitted to use such force only if the suspect presented an immediate threat to a specific person or persons–but ultimately police are held to the same standard regarding the judgement to use lethal force, i.e. the perpetrator was armed or otherwise threatening, and the use of a lower level of force would have been ineffective or put the officer and the public at large at greater risk. “If you’re going to take them down, take them all the way down,” is the advice one police sergeant in a major metropolitan police force with whom I am acqainted advised his subordinants, and by that he meant that if you elect to use lethal force, don’t delude yourself that you are doing anything but; if you’ve determined that the use of a firearm is necessary, then follow through and incapacitate the suspect. Any police officer involved in any shooting will be placed on administrative leave, and if there is any question of the justification for shooting, will have to face an inquest. (He probably will, anyway, just to satisfy that the shooting was properly investigated.) Shooting someone that isn’t a threat and could have been stopped by other means is virtuely guranteed to result in a liability suit and very likely criminal reprocussions.

As far as anyone from beat officers to special tactics teams being advised to shoot the gun out of the hand of a perpetrator or whatnot, this is pure, unabashed Hollywood bullshit. Police offiers are taught to make center of mass hits, period. Look at the B27 target again; you’ll see that there’s no scoring for a head shot whatsoever. SWAT/HRT/SOCOM operators may be taught and, on isolated occasions, instructed to take head shots, but this is to disable a target that may remain a threat if not assuredly incapacitate (i.e. someone wearing body armor, or holding a hostage), and invariably done using scoped carbines or rifles, not a service-grade sidearm.


Of course, then you may become a statistic yourself. :wink:

But I agree that the high capacity magazines and the tactical merits of “wondernine” 9mm and .40S&W pistols are really overhyped. If I need more capacity than the 8+1 .45ACP in a Sig P220 then what I really need is a shotgun or carbine, not an extra dozen pistol rounds. Better yet, I need to just avoid that part of town and find someplace where the most dangerous weapon I need is my rapier wit.


Why aren’t US police routinely armed with something like an MP5 or other SMG like in Europe?

The primary weapon of the police firearms teams in the UK is a non-select fire MP5, although obviously specialist units use sniper rifles or G36Ks etc.

Yeah, but what I needed to add to my point was I know of far too many officers & departments that chose weapons based largely on their capacity. That’s just silly, especially given shooting statistics. For example, I like the Glock 21 with 13 rounds of 45 but not as much as I liked my S&W 4506 with 8 rounds. Guess which weapon was chosen for department issue and why! :rolleyes:

We are, sort of. The department I just retired from this summer had AR-15’s in the trunk of the squad car. The department I’m now working for part-time has semi-auto shotguns in the trunk. I know of other departments that have the MP5 in the squads.

But an officer doesn’t walk around with it. Most police shootings are not tactical situations where one has time to retrive a rifle from the squad. many times it’s a routine contact that went to shit: “Hello sir, I’m officer Beitz. I want to speak to you about…DROP THE GUN!” BAM BAM BAM!
No time to go get a rifle out of the squad. See rule #3.

Of course, most cops go their entire careers without discharging their weapon.

Unlike in many European countries where only certain units carry firearms, virtually all police officers in the United States are required to carry an arm while on duty, and often at all times. Why this philosophy differs from Europe is an interesting discussion in its own right, but the fact remains that police need to have a compact, reasonably lightweight firearm that can be readily carried. As pkbites notes, most squad cars are equipped with some kind of longarm, traditionally a pump shotgun but more often now a short-barreled rifle like the AR-15 carbine. I’ve even seen motorcycle officers in Rancho Cucamonga, CA, with AR-15s clamped on their bikes.

I agree completely. The sudden jump into high capacity 9mms in the mid-Eighties was ill-considered (especially since one of the most popular guns, the Beretta 92, is too bulky to easily conceal and has too thick of a grip for those with smaller hands to handle comfortably) and the .40S&W that replaced it was a triumph of marketing over need.

And are happy to do so, whereas television police (post-CHiPS) seem to get in a gun battle once a week, and Jack Bauer can’t go most hours without emptying a couple of magazines. If you got in that many gunfights on a regular basis, I don’t think your life expectancy would be very long.


There is an important distinction between US and UK police doctrine on weapons: in the UK, armed police are a special deal, and in the US, police are routinely armed. Moreover, qualifications for pistol, shotgun, assault rifle, sniper rifle and submachine gun are distinct things.

US police are routinely checked out for pistols and shotguns, but not for the other weapon types. In many departments, you’re not going to rarely see a submachine gun, ever, and the rifles are generally limited to the SWAT/HRT types.

FWIW, the gun courses at my local range stress three center of mass targets: the head and the chest as previously mentioned, and also the pelvis. A shot there is likely to hit either the lower spine or sacrum, or else one of the hip bones, resulting in the immediate loss of ability to stand up. I suppose this might be considered a not-as-lethal target, but it’s clearly in the grevious bodily harm category. Still it might be worth using if your assailant doesn’t have a gun but still poses a risk to your safety.

We’re trained for that also. But the reason is when your perp is wearing body armor. Otherwise it’s not a primary target.

okay I did not read all the posts, but sampled them. I was a cop for eight years and and at reast in the State of Wisconsin can say the way it was fifteen years ago. The laws might have changed. We were trained to shoot for center of mass, basically the middle of chest. This is because your average policeman is not a crack shot. They put maybe a hundred rounds down range per year for qualification. I was a crack shot and shot in competition, I threw over 8,000 rounds a year down range. And I was not in the top twenty in the state, not even close.

Point one, You are shooting to kill. Shooting to stop is a euphanism.“Shoot to stop” is a thing we were taught as a legal defense. To say you were shooting to kill makes a good case for the other side to say you appointed yourself judge jury and executioner.

Point two your average police officer is lucky to hit anything at all, let alone a gun hand. Shoot for center of torso.

Point three. The issue of draw time was brought up by one poster. Very important. At living room range, an aggressor will be on you before you can draw. I actually had a man attack me at that range with a knife, I survived because my training told me to forget the gun and get my hands out there and scramble for the knife.

Point four The fleeing felon doctrine has been dead for a long time. I know of only one case in the last fifteen years of a Wisconsin Officer shot at a fleeing felon. He had just killed a fellow officer. He claimed they were warning shots, but I think he just missed. And anyway warning shots are prohibited by any department policy I am aware of.

I have been personally faced with two situations in which I might have shot. I choose not to shoot in each. In one, with talk, the suspect surrendered, in the other the suspect was surrounded by civilians, and even if I hit him a round going through him might have taken out an innocent citizen. He got away. For a while. The K-9 units found him.

Another really anoying thing I’ve noticed about polie, is that even against body-armoured enemies, they NEVER shoot for the head, wasting hundreds of rounds of live amunition on gut-shots that are just as deadly. Why they don’t just use tazers or tranquilisers, both of which can be effective at immobalising a target for more than enough time required to disarm and aprehend, secconds after pulling the trigger.
Why the armed forces always use lethal force, when so many imobalisinweapons are theoretically available (though not manufactured) is beyond my the grasp of my wetter-than-the-Atlantic mind.

The basic idea is that if you’re going to shoot somebody, you’re very likely to kill them. So don’t shoot anybody unless you’re prepared to kill them. People trying to shoot only to wound might take a shot in a situation where it isn’t justified and be surprised when somebody they only meant to wound ends up dead.

Second, bullets don’t evaporate in the atmosphere. They always end up somewhere. If you’re shooting at somebody and you miss them the bullet will keep traveling on and will hit something or somebody else - maybe a mile or two away from where you pulled the trigger. So it’s important to hit the target you’re aiming at and shooting at the center of the target is the best way to do that.

Given your eminent experise in the area of restraint and use of less-than-lethal force in “immobalising” suspects to “aprehend” them, it’s clear that you should enjoin yourself as a consultant to law enforcement on such. You’ll no doubt make a fortune instructing police agencies on why they no longer need to issue firearms.

Either that, or you’re just talking through your hat.


He’s talking through his hat.

The majority (i.e. almost ALL) police shootings are split second decisions. Less than 3 seconds. Kill or be killed, etc… They are not the take perfect aim scenario as in the video that was linked to before, and they are not the long drawn out shoot outs that Hollywood & television displays. They are *“can I see you license sir…oh fuck!” *BANG! BANG! BANG!

People can monday morning quarterback all they want, and they can babble all they want about non-lethal horseshit. But I guarantee you, if those same people were in a police officers shoes and facing a lethal threat, at that moment they would forget all about that crap, draw, and fire!

Non-lethal weapons are great, if the threat is non-lethal. This is why officers also carry Tasers, batons, and pepper spray!

I’m not so sure. I admit I’ve not been a badge-wearer for a few years, but:
[li]Garner was a civil action, not criminal (the slain person’s family sought damages)[/li][li]States such as Florida still allow, by statute, deadly force in several circumstances beyond the “presents an immediate threat”: capturing escaped felons (prison guards and responding officers can and will use DF to stop fleeing prisoners); and stopping flight by those that “the officer reasonably believes that the fleeing felon has committed a crime involving the infliction or threatened infliction of serious physical harm to another person.” (FSS 776.05)[/li][/ul]

Yes, Garner was a civil action. That does not change the point of my previous post. Also, I retired from a large agency in Florida so I am most familiar with law and policy in that state. For a shoot to be legitimate there must be a real and imminent danger. The statute you cite does not dispute that, it merely rephrases it. If a subject is fleeing the commission of a violent felony, as you describe, it is legitimate to presume that they pose a threat.

Probably because the head is a very small target. My experience shooting humans consists mostly of paintball guns. It’s very hard to hit a moving person, especially one who is firing at you. Your best bet is to aim at the center of mass so even if you are off a bit, you’ll still hit something.

Most cops go their entire career never having to pull their weapon, let alone fire it.

Well, because unlike theoretical weapons, the lethal ones actually exist.

The military has shown some interest in experimental non-lethal weapons, however they are still in development.

Tasers, rubber bullets and pepper spray do not have the range or stopping power of a modern assault riffle so the idea that the Army should use them is ludicrous.

Damn you Hollywood.

Not to quibble (OK, a little), but you said (emphasis mine):

My point being that the case in no way “ended” the ability of officers to do such a thing. You and I both served in Florida, and we both probably remember when this statute was revised in the 80’s, but the statute still provides authority for officers to use deadly force in at least two situations which do not fall in your description “for a shoot to be legitimate there must be a real and imminent danger”: fleeing felons (as in a prison break), and those who have “committed a crime involving the infliction or threatened infliction of serious physical harm to another person.”

In other words, a person could have come home, shot his wife, left the gun at the scene and go running down the street. Statutorily, whether or not he is armed and/or an immediate threat does not remove the officer’s authority granted by statute (and I’m speaking strictly to the statute, not what is practical or suggested in an operational sense).