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
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
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
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 danger.
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 clear.
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
I had already made my decision in that regard.
Fortunately, I had complete faith in 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
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
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
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 doing.
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
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|Copyright © 2018 Barry M. Baker