Police Shooting People


When it comes to police shooting people, incapacitate can apply universally where the end result is no injury; wounding, or death.

Detective Lieutenant Barry M. Baker (ret.) is a 32 year veteran of the Baltimore Police Department.

Police shooting people addresses two false assumptions: Police are trained to shoot to kill, and shooting to wound is an alternative. People who advocate for “shoot to wound training” for police officers are confused and uninformed. They only expose their total ignorance of guns (ad), and a bullet’s totally unpredictable interaction with human physiology.  

As an introduction to police shooting people, I offer two real life and death incidents I experienced as a Baltimore police officer. These incidents should give even the most intelligent uninformed self-styled expert some food for thought.

A Clear Example of Shooting to Kill

Shooting to kill requires a purposeful desire to cause the death of another. When a person shoots another in the head three times, it’s safe to assume the shooter intended to kill his victim.

Just because a person is shot multiple times doesn’t always result in death. I’ll never forget the night I was assigned to investigate a man lying in the street. He was a 17 year old boy lying on his back in a classic spread eagle position. As soon as I stood over him, I noticed the bullet hole in the center of his forehead.

I kneeled next to him as I called for an ambulance. The young man was conscious and terrified, but his first words to me were clear and concise, “Officer, am I going to die?” I assured him he wasn’t going to die, and I reminded him we were only three blocks from the Johns Hopkins Hospital Emergency Room.

All Became Clear

I examined the victim, and I found a total of three bullet wounds. Aside from the forehead, he’d sustained a hit to the left side of his head near the temple. A third bullet had amputated the tip of his nose. I’d never seen bullet holes quite like these. The flesh around the holes was raised giving them a crater like appearance. As I examined the holes more closely under my flashlight, all became clear.

I could see the base of the bullets revealing that neither bullet had fully penetrated the victim’s skull. I delivered the good news, and the young man couldn’t stop thanking me. He was one lucky kid, because the bullets were small caliber and likely defective to some degree.

Any Bullet Wound can be Deadly

This time I was dispatched to a residence to “investigate the trouble.” I met a woman who told me her 15 year old son was walking on the street when someone shot him in the shoulder. I verified that an ambulance was on route, and I went about examining this young man.

The boy was alert, and he didn’t appear to be in any immediate distress. I removed his shirt, and I quickly located a small entrance wound at the back and near the top of his left shoulder. I then searched for an exit wound where my worst fear was realized.

The exit wound was located on the right side of his back just above his waist. There was no bleeding at the sight of either wound, and I didn’t have to be a doctor to know that this boy was bleeding internally.

I felt so totally helpless at that point, because I knew his chances for survival were practically non-existent. I didn’t say anything to his mother, but she must have sensed my despair evidenced by the tears in her eyes. Only moments after the paramedics arrived, the victim went into cardiac arrest, and all efforts to revive him failed.

Police Shoot to Incapacitate

Incapacitate is a word you never hear from the uninformed experts, because it doesn’t carry the same negative impact as a word like “kill.” When it comes to police shooting people, incapacitate can apply universally where the end result is no injury; wounding, or death.

Imagine yourself confronted with a suspect pointing a gun at you, and you draw your pistol and fire two, three or even four shots at the suspect. Every one of your bullets miss the suspect, but he is so frightened by the hail of bullets whizzing past him that he drops his gun and surrenders. You have just incapacitated the suspect.

Center mass is another misunderstood term. Police are trained to shoot at center mass, and center mass does generally refer to the body’s torso. Since the torso contains the heart and lungs, the uninformed experts use this fact to push their “shoot to wound” nonsense.

Center Mass can refer to any Part of the Body

In training, the torso is the largest target, and police are trained to shoot at the largest target. In a real deadly force situation, center mass can refer to any part of the body. For example, the suspect is firing at you from behind the cover of a brick wall. The only time he presents you with a target is when he raises his head above the wall to shoot at you.

In this instance, the suspect’s head becomes center mass. If you fire and your bullet strikes the suspect in the head, you’ll probably incapacitate the suspect. There would be a high probability that this incapacitation could result in death.

Let’s not forget our uninformed experts. They would point out that if the suspect is firing at you in this police shooting people scenario, this would be a good opportunity for you to “shoot the gun out of his hand.”

Police Shooting People Scenario

First Example – Police Shooting People:  You confront a suspect who you’ve been told is armed with a gun. You stop him in a residential park area where he’s standing with his back to a hillside. The first thing you note is that if you have to fire your weapon, any shots fired by you will either hit the suspect or impact harmlessly into the hillside.

You hold the suspect at gunpoint, and you order him to drop the gym bag he is carrying. Here’s where he does something you’re going to see often. He doesn’t follow your commands. In this instance, he unzips the gym bag; even though, you’re shouting at him to immediately drop the bag. Next he reaches into the bag with his right hand.

Your decision whether or not to employ deadly force is imminent. Does he point the bag toward you? Is he removing something from the bag, or does he finally drop the bag without removing any contents?

He finally drops the bag, but as the bag falls you clearly see he’s holding the handle of the sawed-off shotgun that was concealed inside the bag.

Deadly Force Situation - Police Shooting People

What do you do now? Do you order him to drop the gun? Do you wait for the suspect to raise the gun so that it’s pointing at you? This suspect had ample opportunity to drop the bag while it contained the gun. This suspect has made his intention very clear, and you are now in a deadly force situation.

The suspect has a single barrel, single shot 12 gauge shotgun. You have a 9mm pistol containing 17 bullets. You know you’re going to apply deadly force. How many shots are you going to fire? Your training has taught you to fire two shots in quick succession. Remember, your intention is not to kill the suspect; your intention is only to incapacitate him. You know to fire at center mass only because the torso presents the larger target.

You fire two shots from your pistol. One bullet hits the suspect in the chest, and the other strikes the suspect in the right shoulder. The suspect immediately drops the shotgun as he stumbles backward and collapses. Your use of deadly force is over, and the suspect has been incapacitated. The suspect no longer presents a threat to you since he is no longer in possession of the shotgun.

Another Variation

Second Example – Police Shooting People: You fire the first two shots into the suspect’s chest and shoulder. The suspect stumbles backward, but he is still in possession of the shotgun. Even though he’s been seriously wounded, he attempts to raise the shotgun. You fire two more shots. The suspect turns slightly as you fire and one bullet misses, and the other grazes his left arm. These two shots do nothing to incapacitate, and the suspect continues to raise the gun. You fire two more shots. One is a miss, and the other strikes the suspect in his right inner thigh.

At this point, you have no way of knowing, but you’ve just inflicted a fatal wound to the suspect with your sixth shot. On the hit to his right leg, the bullet has pierced the femoral artery, and the suspect is bleeding to death. The hit to the leg does make the suspect fall to the ground, but he continues to grasp the shotgun.

As he lies on the ground, he attempts to bring the shotgun to bear on you, and you fire two more shots. One passes harmlessly between his arm and torso and into the ground while the second shot strikes his right forearm. After all those shots fired, your eighth and final shot to the forearm finally incapacitates the suspect when he drops the shotgun from his right hand.

The Eighth Shot

Obviously, if you’d only had six shots, you’d be in trouble since it was the eighth shot that incapacitated this suspect. The reason you fired at two shot intervals was to aid you in staying on target. The more shots you fire in rapid succession, the farther you’ll be drawn off target by the recoil of your pistol.

Realistically, with such a tenacious opponent, you’d have probably fired more than eight shots and more successive shots. While your training is critical, the factors of stress and adrenalin are going to affect your response simply because you’re fighting for your life. The critics will never be able to wrap their brains around the realities of a life and death struggle.

Of course, in this police shooting people scenario, the “shoot to wound” advocate would ask this question. “If the shot to the suspect’s forearm incapacitated the suspect, why didn’t you shoot him in the arm with the first shot?”

People Shooting People Scenario with Multiple Police Officers

Look at this very same confrontation with only one difference. There are three police officers present, and each officer observes the same actions by the suspect. Can you imagine how many shots will be fired in the few seconds of the gunfight? Can you speculate how many hits and misses might be involved?

In this instance, the critics will be quick to allege excessive force based only on the number of shots fired while ignoring that all three officers were placed in jeopardy by the suspect’s aggressive actions.

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