In this incident, it was fortunate that I
had much more information relative to
what was happening than the other
officer.  The other officer only knew that
there had been a report of a hold-up,
and he saw me with my gun drawn and
waving him away.  When the door
opened, he instinctively took the correct
action.  From that point on, he was
guided totally by his own observations.

Think about how dangerous this situation
was.  One of the suspects could have
stood behind another suspect and drawn
his gun without being observed by the
officer.  I'm certain the fact that one of
the suspects was eyeballing me through
the crack in the door had some bearing
on that not happening.

While I was almost certain that the other
officer had the suspects at gunpoint, I
couldn't be 100% certain.  Here's where
things could have gotten dicey.  Put
yourself in my spot.  What if the other
officer was a person in whom you had
little confidence in his judgement.  The
other officer begins firing his pistol into
the doorway.  You begin firing through
the door.  When the smoke clears, you
find out that the three men in the
doorway are victims of the robbery.  

While I knew that the other officer was
probably confronting three armed
suspects, he could only assume that all
three might be armed.  I had decided to
begin firing if the other officer fired,
because I was not willing to subject him
to return fire from the suspects just to
make that all conclusive verification that
he had the right men.  It was a terrible
decision I had to make, and one that I
was grateful I didn't have to act on.

This incident got even scarier after the
fact.  We learned that one of the
suspects had just been paroled from
prison after serving ten years of a fifteen
year sentence for armed robbery.  When
he was apprehended for that robbery, he
engaged a police officer in a gun battle;
until, he ran out of bullets.

The club they robbed had over fifty
patrons inside.  The suspects made all
the club members lie on the floor and
empty their pockets.  Two of the
suspects picked up all the money and
valuables as the third suspect covered
them.  The man who almost certainly
saved my life was in the kitchen when the
robbery began.  He crawled out from a
second floor window onto the roof of a
first floor addition.  When he dropped to
the ground, he confronted the suspect
with the shotgun.  No words were
exchanged.  That fourth suspect
obviously didn't have the stomach to
shoot him, and the man escaped and
called police.

There's one last thing you should learn
from this story.  Never rely on
information you receive from 911, for it
will almost always be incomplete.  In this
instance, it was way off the mark.
When it comes to shooting at people,
there will never be any absolute standard
for you to follow when you decide to
shoot or not shoot.  The following is a
true life example where the outcome
could have been a totally justifiable use
of deadly force, or it could have been
justifiably labeled as contagious shooting:
You're walking foot patrol when your
dispatcher assigns you to respond to a
nearby private club to take a robbery
report.  You ask the dispatcher if the
robbery is in progress, and the
dispatcher tells you -- pointedly -- that it
is not in progress.  Your response is for
the report only, and no back-up unit is

As you're about to enter the front door
of the club which opens to a steep,
narrow stairway to the second floor
where the club is located, you hear a
voice shouting, "Officer!  Officer!  You
turn to see a man running toward you
from the opposite side of the street.  
Vehicle traffic is heavy, and the man is
nearly struck twice as he runs toward
you yelling, "Officer, don't go in there!"

In seconds, the man is standing in front
of you breathlessly saying,
"Officer...three guys...with guns...they're
robbing everybody.  Another guy...in the
alley...has a sawed-off shotgun."  
Incredulously, you ask, "They're still
inside?"  The man responds, "Yea, yea,
they're still in there."

You instinctively tell the man to run as
you press yourself against the wall of the
building.  You draw your pistol as you get
on your radio and call for back-up.  
Almost immediately, a radio car stops
directly in front of the building.  It turns
out that the officer had responded just
as a routine back-up.  You soon become
aware that he does not know what's
happening as he steps from his car.  He's
shaking the microphone of his
walkie-talkie next to his ear.  You
transmit again making it clear to the
officer, and everybody, that he is in

Your frustration builds as the officer
continues to shake that microphone as
he walks toward the front door oblivious
to what's happening.  It's obvious to you
that his radio is malfunctioning, and you
begin yelling his name.  You're only about
fifteen feet apart, but with the noise of
the street and his attention focused on
that stupid microphone, he simply
doesn't hear you.  Just as you're about
to run forward and physically remove him
from in front of that door, he looks
toward you.  The expression on his face
relieves your frustration somewhat, for
the sight of you with gun in one hand
and frantically waving him off with the
other hand sends your message loud and

It's too late.  Before the officer has a
chance to react, the front door of the
building opens.  The officer instinctively
draws his pistol and takes a point
shoulder position pointing his pistol at
"whoever" is in the doorway.  This is
where I really screwed up.  When I'd
taken up my position, I chose the wrong
side of the door.  The door was
windowless, and the door opened toward
me.  I could clearly see an eyeball peering
at me through the opening between the
door and door frame, but I had no idea
who, or how many people, the other
officer was confronting.

The other officer was shouting
commands, "Show your hands...come
out of there...show your hands!"  The
ensuing seconds were agonizing.
If the other officer began firing his
weapon, would you fire your weapon
sending your bullets through that door?
I had already made my decision in that
regard.  Fortunately, I had complete faith
that officer's judgement.  If he had
fired his weapon, I was confident that he
would only do so if he was certain his life
was in imminent danger.

Most fortunately, for both the other
officer and me, the three suspects had
stuffed their handguns inside their pants
just before their exit from the building.  
That steep, narrow stairway I mentioned
earlier prevented them from scattering or
fleeing.  The officer had the drop on
them, and they knew it.  A lot of luck was
with us that day, the suspect in the alley
with the shotgun fled instead of coming
to the aid of his accomplices.  
Hopefully, you'll never have to fire your
pistol in the line of duty.  More hopefully,
you'll never find yourself firing your
pistol, along with another or other
officers, in a use of deadly force situation.

While every use of deadly force by a
police officer will evoke criticism, that
criticism will always be magnified in
proportion to the number of officers
firing, and the number of shots fired.  
When multiple shots are involved, the
criticism will include the number of times
a suspect is hit as well as how many
times the suspect is missed.  In other
words, it's a no win situation.  

There were many critics when police
departments began replacing six shot
service revolvers with the higher
ammunition capacity semi-automatic
pistols, so it should not surprise you that
criticism of the use of higher ammunition
capacity weapons should follow.

Whenever more than one police officer
fires his or her weapon simultaneously,
or nearly simultaneously, in the same
incident, the label of "contagious
shooting" is quick to be applied.  When a
suspect is armed with a gun, and he is an
obvious and immediate treat to your life,
or the lives of others, and more than one
officer fires more than one or two times,
the contagious shooting label will be
applied, but it won't stick.

The fact that the suspect is armed with a
gun will make the force justified;
however, critics will still seize on the
number of shots fired, and the number
of hits and misses.  When the suspect is
armed with a knife, the critics will add the
element of excessive force, and they'll
insist that one shot would have been
sufficient.  When the suspect is perceived
to be armed, but it turns out that he's
not armed...well, now you have problems.

When you go through your firearms
training, your instructors will stress the
point that you, and only you, are
responsible for the decision to fire your
weapon, and that responsibility extends
to the point of impact of every bullet you
fire.  Responsibility.  That's the one word
you must never forget when it comes to
your decision to fire your pistol.  While
the definition of responsibility is rarely
applied to a lot of people, it will always be
applied to police officers.

When it comes to criticism, you should
just accept the fact that there will be
critics of nearly everything you do.  When
it comes to your discharge of firearms,
those critics will only increase in
numbers.  The vast majority of your
critics won't have the slightest idea of
what they're talking about; however, the
only time their reckless criticism will be
correct is when you provide a reason for
them to get it right.
"The problem of contagious shooting
is real.  It has always been around,
but the acquisition of the higher
ammunition capacity semi-automatic
pistols by police has made it more
noticeable than in the past."
~ Barry M. Baker
The problem of contagious shooting is
real.  It has always been around, but the
acquisition of the higher ammunition
capacity semi-automatic pistols by police
has made it more noticeable than in the
past.  When police officers were armed
with six shot revolvers, you were always
conscious of your limited fire power, and
you never wanted to have to reload your
revolver under stressful circumstances.  
Think about this...with your semi-auto
pistol, you can fire over thirty shots
reloading once with a magazine in the
time it would take you to fire twelve
shots from a revolver reloading once with
a speed loading device.

Contagious shooting occurs when police
officers fire their weapons simply because
another or other officers are firing
theirs.  The most obvious example of
contagious shooting occurs when a
suspect vehicle is involved.  Understand
this...firing at a moving vehicle is rarely
ever justified.  Okay...a man drives his
car through the doors of a shopping
mall, and he begins running over people.  
Since you obviously don't have your car
inside that mall to use to stop him, and
he's made it clear he intends to run down
as many people as possible, your use of
deadly force would be justified.  While
your bullets can do nothing to disable the
car, you're going to try to incapacitate
the driver just to limit the damage he's

But...then again...you've got to consider
your chances of hitting such a small
moving target.  How many times will you
miss, and where will your bullets go in a
mall crowed with people.  You'd probably
be better off firing your pistol repeatedly
into one of those big potted plants you
see all over malls.  While people may not
hear the car coming at them, or they
take the time to identify any noise they
hear, they'll certainly recognize the
gunshots and seek cover more quickly.  
Shooting at cars is a really bad thing, and
it's probably the most common example
of contagious shooting.  

I hate to say this, but, as your career
progresses, you'll identify a few police
officers who you don't want behind you
when you hear shots fired in front of
you.  When you're creeping down an alley
looking for an armed person, and you
glance behind you only to see another
officer with gun in hand and visibly
shaking, you want to change your
position.  There are some who through
fear, adrenaline, and the sudden
occurrence of gunfire will fire their pistols
before identifying a target.  

Then...there's the simple matter of
inexperience.  As a new police officer,
you're not going to want to appear
timid.  You could find yourself in a
situation where an officer fires his or her
pistol.  You draw your weapon, but you
can't immediately identify the target at
which the officer is shooting.  Or...you
clearly see that the officer is firing on a
suspect, and you draw and begin firing.  
In your zealousness not to appear timid,
you don't realize that the other officer
has ceased firing, because the officer has
incapacitated the suspect.  We're talking
seconds here, and in most instances,
when you hear the gunshots, it will all
probably be over, before you have a
chance to participate.

I know you've heard the saying, "Just
because everybody does it doesn't make
it right."  When it comes to you shooting
at people, that saying should take on a
whole new meaning.
Contagious Shooting is a Real
Ask yourself this question:
Copyright © 2016  Barry M. Baker