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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Sirens & Gavels

“Shoot to kill” vs. shoot to stop threat

There's concern within Spokane's law enforcement community about a description in a recent SR article explaining that police are trained to "shoot to kill" rather than shoot to wound, which is seen as risky because wounded gunmen can still pull triggers. It was intended to help readers understand why police in real life don't try to just wing a gunman in the arm or simply pop a well-placed shot into a leg like they do in the movies.

Law enforcement, however, generally dislikes the term "shoot to kill," insisting it's technically inaccurate even though many officers acknowledge it also would be inaccurate to say they try to "shoot to wound." Instead, departments use various renditions of this phrase: shooting "until the threat ends or stops."

It would be easy to conclude it's basically just semantics. Police are trained to aim at a portion of the human body that contains so many vital organs that bullet wounds often are fatal.

But in a recent email Spokane Police Sgt. Dave McCabe offers a good explanation of what he and others see as a distinguishable difference between shoot-to-kill and shoot-to-stop the threat: "The suspect does not have to be dead to no longer be a threat," McCabe wrote.

Interestingly, there's growing debate nationally about whether law enforcement departments should be forced to adopt "shoot to wound" policies.

In New York, for example, the state Assembly spent much of the past spring and summer considering legislation that would require police officers to aim for arms or legs in an effort to inflict the least possible harm when shooting someone.

Law enforcement groups and others have blasted the plan as dangerous and unrealistic, explaining -- among other things -- that gunmen with leg or arm wounds can still pose a serious threat to officers and the public. Moreover, the ability to aim with the precision necessary to target arms or legs in a tense, stressful confrontation would be asking too much of even the best sharpshooters, with New York Police Department statisticians pointing out that even when targeting the larger torso region of the human body ("center of mass") just 17 percent of the bullets hit their target.

Back in Spokane, you can read more about local law enforcement use-of-force training in this article: Nov. 7: Life or death in an instant

David Wasson oversees coverage of politics and state and local government and assists with editing on the City Desk.

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