A Note About Restraint

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Patrick

Patrick is a mid-40 year old geek with an undergraduate degree in mathematics and a master's degree in Information Systems. Nothing he says here has anything to do with the official position of his employer or any other institution.

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  1. Avatar Mark Thompson
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    says:

    Pat: Thanks for this. I tend to agree that using the number of rounds fired is not the greatest metric – the metric that is far more concerning for me is as you say: the number of incidents where firearms are discharged at all. The only thing I’d say is that the numbers I used are interesting for a few other reasons – first, why are German police only on average firing 2 rounds when they actually shoot at a person as compared to an American police officer firing 5 or 6? One other thing that is of note is that in the numbers I used from the NYPD, only 7 of the 47 incidents involved the suspect actually firing at the police officer.

    All that said, my post isn’t necessarily intended to have a particular point – I’m genuinely curious as to the basis for this sizable discrepancy.Report

  2. Avatar Kazzy
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    says:

    PC-

    But didn’t the original piece show that in only a small percentage of cases (I don’t remember the figure… maybe 7 out of 47?) were the officers actually being shot at?

    Generally speaking, I think looking only at shooting numbers is too narrow a focus. I’m sure there are cases where, given the specific circumstances at the moment the weapon was fired, doing so was justified, but a broader look shows that the officers took a series of unjustified steps that created that specific set of circumstances. So, yes, it would appear that any officer would be justified to fire upon someone firing at them. But do we feel the same way if we learn that the broader story shows the police were executing a no-knock warrant in the middle of the night and did not properly announce themselves? Suddenly the armed criminal taking shots at the cops and justifying their use-of-force could just as easily be described as a scared homeowner defending himself against armed intruders?

    I’m not a cop. And I don’t know any. I won’t pretend to know what goes through their heads and their hearts when they are doing what they do. But I do think there is a much broader conversation that needs to happen here. Where you wonder, “Is the frequency of incidents of police shooting too high?”, I wonder, “Does every cop even need to be carrying a gun?”Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy
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      says:

      Which is not to say that my wondering is better/righter/more legitimate than your wondering… only that there are a number of levels upon which to examine this and that we should be mindful of the assumptions that our original positions make.Report

    • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Kazzy
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      says:

      > But do we feel the same way if we learn that the broader story shows
      > the police were executing a no-knock warrant in the middle of the
      > night and did not properly announce themselves? Suddenly the
      > armed criminal taking shots at the cops and justifying their use-of-
      > force could just as easily be described as a scared homeowner
      > defending himself against armed intruders?

      This is tricky.

      I don’t think no-knock warrants are justifiable, really. It’s basically impossible to meaningfully identify yourself as a police officer in such a scenario, and I don’t think it is reasonable for an armed police officer to serve a warrant without being able to identify themselves as a cop.

      So the problem there is that the procedure is wonked.

      Adding a wonked procedure on top of another magnifies the exception scenarios, yeah. But I do understand the point of view of the instructor at the police academy, who is training these guys and gals to survive on the street. They’re going to emphasize that *if* the gun comes out, you empty your magazine at the target. It’s the job of “somebody else” to ensure that the rookie cop knows when they should pull the thing out in the first place.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Patrick Cahalan
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        says:

        “Adding a wonked procedure on top of another magnifies the exception scenarios, yeah. But I do understand the point of view of the instructor at the police academy, who is training these guys and gals to survive on the street. They’re going to emphasize that *if* the gun comes out, you empty your magazine at the target. It’s the job of “somebody else” to ensure that the rookie cop knows when they should pull the thing out in the first place.”
        Which to me says there is a woeful breakdown in communication. If the instructor at the academy doesn’t know what that “somebody else” is doing, how can he properly train his officers? It is scary to know that one hand doesn’t know what the other hand is doing, especially when those hands hold guns.Report

        • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Kazzy
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          says:

          I don’t know how this goes, at the police academy. I imagine that they do their best to align these sorts of things, always accounting for the fact that organizations are bad at aligning things.

          I’ll see if I can find out more detail.Report

  3. Avatar Scott
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    says:

    I want to know why cops firing their guns cause liberals to have a cow? Comparing NYC cops and German cops is silly.Report

  4. Avatar NoPublic
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    says:

    Can somebody tell me what the heck you call the firing stance that fellow in the header pic is using? I’ve been shooting since I was 10 and I can’t recall ever seeing someone use that particular stance. I’ve seen a lot of different passive weak arm positions (clenched at the side, punching the sternum or waist) for single hand firing but never that configuration (clenched fist, used as a wrist rest).Report

    • Avatar Scott in reply to NoPublic
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      says:

      I think that is a stance with a flashlight.Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to NoPublic
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      says:

      Scott’s right, they’re firing in the position they’d be in with a flashlight. I know this for a variety of reasons, one of which is that I’ve had a cop hold a gun and flashlight pointed at me just like that.Report

    • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to NoPublic
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      says:

      It’s called a Harries Hold

      http://www.iwillnotbeavictim.com/flashlight_hold-page.html

      I was always told the logic was that if someone would arm they would shoot towards the flashlight so you wanted to hold it away from your body.Report

      • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Mike Dwyer
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        says:

        Given the general inability of people to hit what they’re shooting at, centering the flashlight right over your chest seems like a good idea.Report

      • Avatar NoPublic in reply to Mike Dwyer
        Ignored
        says:

        Thanks. Odd given the number of ex and current LEOs I shoot with that I’ve never seen the stance. I guess it’s not as stable as others when you’re shooting competitively. I’ll have to try it next time I’m at the range just to get an idea of it.Report

        • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to NoPublic
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          says:

          I don’t care for the feel of it. It’s not a very stable base IMO.Report

          • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Mike Dwyer
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            says:

            I was going to say it looks better than a old-west style single hand grip, but it doesn’t beat the old Weaver stance.Report

            • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to Patrick Cahalan
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              says:

              I still find myself defaulting to the old ‘cup and saucer’ grip that I learned as a kid. I don’t shoot pistols enough to really have the Weaver stance burned into my DNA. I like it when I conciously use it but if I was in a self-defense scenario I am sure I would default to the old grip.Report

              • Avatar Wardsmith in reply to Mike Dwyer
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                says:

                I’ve shot competitively for years. I suspect there is more going on with the stance than you’re guessing here. First notice everyone is holding their weapon in their “off” hand designated by the red ribbon? In normal distribution you’d be hard pressed to find so many southpaws unless in pro baseball. I want to say more but typing this on a smartphone is painfulReport

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Wardsmith
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                says:

                The image is (supposedly) cops at the range. I didn’t grab the entire context; good catch, Ward. Maybe it’s “try hitting things with your off-hand” testing day or something.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Wardsmith
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                says:

                I wondered about that too, but I figured it must be some police technique. I’m not a gun person, so…

                One of the things they do with the flashlight is turn it on, turn it off again, turn it on, sometimes rapidly, sometimes with a few seconds in between. Usually there’s more than one, so there’ll be a light flashing in your eyes from over there, then over here, then over there again, then both. It’s disorienting, which I’m sure is the purpose, particularly since they tend to be moving towards whomever they’re pointing it at.Report

              • Avatar wardsmith in reply to Chris
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                says:

                Ok, at a real keyboard now, the smartphone wouldn’t be so bad but the tiny cellphone combox doesn’t like me using Swype.

                The whole purpose of “off hand” shooting is that you may well have been disabled in your primary arm or shoulder, especially in a low-light situation. The reason is the muzzle flashes your pistol makes become an excellent focusing point for your opponent to aim at. In tests, people who can’t hit the broad side of a barn door are amazingly accurate hitting a strobing light, probably something hereditary in our amygdala. The first thing you learn in night shooting is light discipline. Once you’ve done a legitimate night shooting exercise, you’ll want to puke at what they show in a typical movie with the actor lighting up the entire universe (see Jaybird’s previous post) with a flashlight while supposedly armed bad guy(s) is supposedly hiding in the dark curiously unable to shoot at the actor with the light saying, “hit me, hit me”.

                Since I’m ambidextrous, it is basically cheating when I do off-hand shooting although there is still one problem. That has to do with the dominant eye. If you make a circle with your thumb and forefinger of your dominant hand and hold it arm’s length in front of you, then “sight” through it at some distant object with both eyes open, close your dominant eye (keeping the other one open) and see what happens to the object that was in the middle of the circle. Play with that concept a few times, then repeat the entire procedure with your “off hand” and see what changes (if anything). My dominant eye changes depending on which limb is “dominant” (part of being ambidextrous and why switch hitters in baseball are able to function). That cross-hand grip you see in the picture is extremely useful to someone like me, not because of the stability (vs the Weaver) but because it helps my dominant eye focus.Report

  5. Avatar damon
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    says:

    Patrick,
    I’d assume that those stats are for a given amount of training, and that level is training is the required minimum amount to still be on the force, or for some “average” of cops on the force. I would also expect that frequent, continuous training improves those odds, because, with better / more training, skill level usually goes up. So I really think that, with some effort, that percentage can be increased–and it should.

    I have personal knowledge of a woman, who had never handled a firearm before, who took her states police pistol qualification course that same day, and passed it on the first try. I don’t think she’s particularly lucky or skilled, I think difficulty of the test is set rather low. (This is for the standard non stressful, no shooting back test.)

    Maybe we ought to be training cops to shoot better in a high stress environment so they get used to it and don’t need 5 shots+?Report

    • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to damon
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      says:

      Damon:

      > I’d assume that those stats are for a given amount of training,
      > and that level is training is the required minimum amount to
      > still be on the force, or for some “average” of cops on the force.

      The PDF that I linked to up here includes breakdowns by job duty and age, but not time-on-force, although you can kind of gather how that works out by looking at the numbers. Typically, it’s younger cops and patrol cops… but of course in most departments patrol cops are more likely to be younger cops and older cops are more likely to have preferable assignments, which would presumably include “beats where I don’t get shot at much”.

      > I would also expect that frequent, continuous training
      > improves those odds, because, with better / more
      > training, skill level usually goes up.

      You would assume that, but the evidence that I’ve read points to the converse. That is, training in combat scenarios is of marginal value in comparison to actual combat scenarios. It’s just not possible to “train” realistic combat scenarios. Basic good form and range discipline are training tactics that are more of a “negative outcome reducer” than a “positive outcome enhancer”: good training means you’re less likely to shoot yourself in the foot or try to fire off a round with the safety on. But when it comes to shooting at live persons, increased training actually produces vastly smaller returns for increased investment (there is also an applicant pool problem). Navy SEALS have a lot of enhanced live fire training that produces better results, but they’re drawing from a teeeeeny applicant pool.

      There’s actually some literature that shows that increasing training may actually be correlated with higher rates of non-righteous incidence (sorry, don’t have the link handy, but I’ll try to dig it up)… the theory being the more you train to use your weapon, the more of an extension of your arm it becomes, and the more likely you are to use it.

      > So I really think that, with some effort, that percentage
      > can be increased–and it should.

      It actually pretty much doesn’t go up significantly, across all police populations everywhere (that I’ve seen, anyway… if you can provide a reference pointing in the opposite direction, I’d be glad to read it). This is one of those times when intuition doesn’t match empirical data.

      > I have personal knowledge of a woman, who had never
      > handled a firearm before, who took her states police
      > pistol qualification course that same day, and passed it
      > on the first try. I don’t think she’s particularly lucky or
      > skilled, I think difficulty of the test is set rather low.
      > (This is for the standard non stressful, no shooting
      > back test.)

      Sure, but this is just not generalizable.

      Part of the problem (I’ll readily admit) is certainly back to the applicant pool. However, the applicant pool we have… is the applicant pool we have. It’s like the public school teacher problem: yes, if all the cops were better shots, or all the teachers were better teachers, we’d have better outcomes. But even supposing there was no union or labor difficulties in getting rid of the poor shots or the marginal teachers, the problem is that you have to replace them with somebody.

      And really, there just aren’t that many people who have cool heads under enormous amounts of stress, in good physical condition, who have a strong sense of justice and a willingness to put themselves at risk daily, and are smart enough and have good enough people skills to meet the personnel demands of the modern police state. Our choices are: reduce the need for cops, or deal with the cops that we have.

      And unlike most civil liberties nuts, I don’t think the police are, en masse, a bunch of bad guys (I think the system doesn’t do enough to weed out the bad guys, but that’s a different story). Drawing down on a human being and pulling a trigger just isn’t easy.Report

      • Avatar damon in reply to Patrick Cahalan
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        says:

        Excellent response.

        I’d be interested in reading those studies.

        I agree that the system doesn’t weed out the bad apples well but I disagree on your choices of reducing the need for cops or deal with the cops we have. We should do both.

        As to my female friend, actually I think it’s reflective of “not weeding out” the bad cops. If there were tougher standards for shooting and other “hurdles” I think the quality of cops would improve hurdles that include phych hurdles and temperament. Of course the problem there is you can no longer hire the “best” since you have to deal with all the regulations that prevent you from doing that. Fixing that would go along too. 🙂Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Patrick Cahalan
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        says:

        I wonder to what degree the shooting numbers would decline of there weren’t a powerful union fighting against suspensions, disciplinary actions, etc. The union acts to prevent any accountability, as does the entire political apparatus, but I wonder if there’s any way to determine the degree to which the insularity created by the union exacerbates questionable cop practices.Report

        • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Stillwater
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          says:

          Make the firearms qualification dependent upon a civilian oversight board, rather than the police or the union.

          If you don’t pass, you can’t carry. You can still work, and you can still get paid, but whether or not you actually *want* to work when you can’t carry… well, that’s on you and not on the union or the police infrastructure.Report

  6. Avatar Chris
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    says:

    Recently, a cop was shot and killed here in Austin. It’s the first cop killing that I remember since I got here, but there have in that time been many people killed by cops here. I was having a conversation about this with a friend who happens to be an avid gamer, recently, and he commented at one point, “The police have such a high kdr that I think we can assume that they’re hacking.” I probably shouldn’t find that amusing, but I do, and I find it true in a way as well.Report

  7. Avatar DensityDuck
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    says:

    Incidentally, this is why the whole “armed pilots means safe planes!” thing is a load of garbage. You are not going to stop terrorism by sending one guy who fires a hundred rounds one Saturday every three months into an environment where an unknown number of attackers can be totally hidden until they’re right in your face.Report

  8. Avatar M.A.
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    says:

    I think a large part of this issue stems from a fast-paced change in how the general population views police.

    There was a time when police were generally respected, because they were represented on TV and in radio by some pretty admirable characters. Dragnet, Adam-12, the Andy Griffith Show, all of them tried to portray police as generally rule-abiding and law-abiding public servants, though some of the propaganda Dragnet got into in later years went a stretch by modern standards.

    Today, public perception has changed. Most cop dramas involve distortions of police procedure and the existence of “rogue” policemen. The prevalence of Youtube and media reporting has shown police more and more to be flawed individuals. Just as many will claim police have to approach every stop as if it could be some crazed, drugged-out gang member with a gun, any citizen pulled over has to wonder if their stop is going to be the one with the cop on roid rage or some other issue who flies off the handle and shoots them, beats them, hits them with a taser over and over, or is so desperate for a conviction that he’s willing to plant evidence or lie on his police report. And that’s before we get to ticket-fixing scandals, red-light camera rigging scandals, scandals involving yellow light timing being dropped below the safe minimums to get more red-light tickets issued, police who issue phoney-baloney tickets while doing things deliberately designed to keep the “offense” off-camera so it’s their word against the citizen’s. Or maybe the occasional issue like this.

    In short – police are no longer respected, and it’s because the presence of bad actors in police departments no longer feels abnormal to the general citizenry. Also because even when police are caught doing it, it seems the departments always try to run interference for them. Here’s a great example: look up “Justice for Cisco” and watch the video, see if you can in any way defend the officer’s actions or the subsequent police department’s covering for him.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to M.A.
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      says:

      It doesn’t help when it’s seen as racism that most of those arrested at a majority-Mexican event in a majority-Mexican town are of swarthy skin tone and south-of-the-border accent.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to DensityDuck
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        says:

        Words that were NOT in MA’s comment:
        Racism
        Mexican
        Skin tone

        Why do you hit the “Reply” button on the computer but not in your head?Report

      • Avatar M.A. in reply to DensityDuck
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        says:

        I know you’re trolling at this point, but it can’t be helped.

        It doesn’t help when it’s seen as racism that most of those arrested at a “majority-Mexican event” in a “majority-Mexican town” are of swarthy skin tone and south-of-the-border accent and were arrested by a sheriff’s office run by a pasty white guy, where only pasty white guys are allowed into the upper management, and whose policies were so egregiously biased that they triggered the USDOJ to rescind authority to operate as proxies for immigration enforcement and follow up with a federal indictment for abuse of power violations.

        Just to be accurate. It’s not unfair to call Arpaio’s behavior and policies racist when the policies, public statements, and patterns of his department darned well look racist.

        Or were you referring to somewhere else? If so, please provide links and information.Report

  9. Avatar The Phantom
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    says:

    There’s a fallacy in Mr. Thompson’s post that needs to be addressed here.

    You can’t compare different country’s police forces in this way because the crime is not continuous across the population. Violent crime is a -local- phenomenon in the USA, with very small geographic areas accounting for almost all the crime. Most police shootings occur in particular neighborhoods within large urban centers, those conditions don’t exist outside those places. As in, some places in Chicago have a murder rate over 100/100,000. Two blocks away the rate is 10/100,000.

    Discontinuous.

    If you can’t generalize between two places in the same city, doing so between German and the USA is of questionable utility.Report

    • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to The Phantom
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      says:

      “Violent crime is a -local- phenomenon in the USA, with very small geographic areas accounting for almost all the crime. … Discontinuous”

      This is a very good point and worthy of a more in-depth analysis. Unfortunately it is difficult to get good numbers out of the UCR system for that granular of an approach, but it’s definitely the right way to go.

      However, even correcting for this, there’s a difference between crime incidence and police response. Even if the murder rate is high, you’d have to first show that the threat to officers is correspondingly high.

      My gut doesn’t have a good answer. I could see how it could possibly even be the reverse. Someone who commits your average murder is going to be someone known to the victim, probably a family member, most likely a spouse. That person has cracked under a particular sort of strain and might do all sorts of crazy things. Then again, they may only have the potential for such a violent episode with that particular set of circumstances.

      On the other hand, the hardened murderer who is committing associated homicide (murder to protect their drug trade, murder to respond to a gang war, whatever) is also likelier to have been in and out of the criminal system and thus be much more aware of how to game the system; shut up, say nothing, let the cop take you in, wait for a lawyer. So even though their threat vector to a common civilian would be astronomically higher than the guy who cracks and shoots his wife… to the cop who may need to draw down on ’em, they’re much more likely to treat it as a day at the office, so to speak.

      Interesting research question, there.Report

  10. Avatar Dave
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    says:

    For a Chinese perspective:
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/newsinc/landing_page.html?freewheel=90057&sitesection=huffingtonpost&VID=88016

    Most US police departments only require maybe 50 rounds per year for qualifying to care a weapon. If the average of 15 shots needed to ensure a single hit, when getting shot at yourself, doesn’t that justify high capacity magazines.Report

    • Avatar wardsmith in reply to Dave
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      says:

      @Dave, not sure what you wanted to link to, your URL goes to a landing page that does a freewheel, so different links come up for whoever clicks on it (although I’ve managed to hit a Yelp how to video twice in a row). Found this link of Chinese police training.

      On training, in general the problem with virtually 100% of American police forces (and the Chinese video isn’t showing anything better BTW) is they aren’t training properly for an urban danger scenario. The common aphorism is that you’ll only be 50% as good in a gunfight as your worst ever day on the range. It could of course be even worse than that especially if you freeze. In after action interviews, police are notoriously inaccurate when asked how many times they fired their weapon and where the rounds landed. The amygdala has taken over and it is the size of a peanut. Its whole purpose is to keep the rest of the lizard (us) alive and do it without thought or conscience.

      The other problem with our police is how the weapon is meant to be used. Mike D. brought up a good comparison with the Japanese samurai sword upthread. But he didn’t go far enough. I don’t remember how to say it in Japanese anymore, but when younger was taught a saying that basically translated, “the soul (sword) is never to be drawn, but when drawn must always taste blood”. The gentleman who taught it to me was so serious about it that he would cut himself with the sword if some asshole (like myself) were stupid enough to ask him to show me his wonderful sword (fortunately for me, he didn’t decide to draw MY blood, which is very likely what his ancestors would have done for my impertinence). Made me realize that in some quarters these things are taken very seriously. Now compare this to a cop’s pistol. They are taught to draw and shoot at the gun range, but they are also taught to draw and “threaten”. The bad news is, in a stressful situation they might just accidentally draw to threaten or coerce and shoot anyway, since that’s the motion they’ve practiced literally thousands of times. This is why you never ever ever want to be in a situation where a policeman has decided he needs to draw a gun on you. His higher order brain could be screaming “NO NO!” while his amygdala is pulling the trigger again and again. Military style drill and muscle memory techniques are all well and good when we faced enemies who wore uniforms and lined up bravely to face us. Today’s world is not that world.Report

      • Avatar Dave in reply to wardsmith
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        says:

        Sorry the link didn’t work try this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8xM_PiWZN-E

        She shoots 4 times, the last was more a coup de grace. The hostage taker was out of the fight after the first round fired. Still best part of the video is the newscaster’s shiny blazer.

        Draw and threaten might explain why NYPD Glocks get a 12 pound trigger. How anyone is expected to shoot quickly and accurately with a 12 pound trigger is beyond me.

        I don’t think swords are a good comparison to handguns. Swords, in the hands of an expert, were 100 % effective. Three feet of steel chopping down from clavicle to mid-sternum is the ultimate one shot stop. A cavalry saber being used backhand across the face to cut down fleeing infantry as the horses overtake those on foot, is effective — sharp blade optional, came from the factory dull. It takes years to train a swordsman. It takes days to weeks to make a sword. It takes hours to make a hand gun and days to weeks to make a shooter. The sword was wrapped in mysticism, hence the bit about not drawing unless the blade tastes blood. Compare to the US sniper asked what he felt when he shot someone. “Recoil,” he replied.

        Any case, compare the Chinese newscaster calling the response to the hostage scene as “awesome” to the probable response if this had happened in the US or Europe.Report

  11. Avatar Citizen
    Ignored
    says:

    Rapid fire in the police force evolved from cross contamination from military training. The Korean war brought about a change in rates of fire. There is no need to justify a high rate of fire when the enemy advances over the hill 100,000 strong.

    This evolved further in Vietnam. The conflict was showing that numerous patrols would randomly contact enemy forces and the need to quickly acquire the target and cut the number of enemy quickly lead to an advantage for the patrol. Barrel lengths became shorter, the gun weight decreased, and rate of fire made faster. The theory of accuracy by volume was soon the new adopted standard.

    Unfortunately, police trainers intermesh with military trainers and the concept/policy was applied here at home. Also unfortunate is that pistols have crazy short barrels compared to a military rifle. It nearly self perpetuates the insanity.

    Another problem is that to self justify a killing the police has to quickly convince himself that he is shooting a bad guy. That decision has to come from training to identify a bad guy from a good guy. From all the stuff cops see every day, I find it conceivable that eventually nearly everyone would start to appear to be the bad guy. As one famous sniper believes he only shot “savages”.Report

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