When faced with a perceived threat, why is it that many officers shoot to kill, rather than simply to wound?I had been wondering the same thing. As a young psychiatrist many years ago, I was asked to accompany the police to the apartment where a patient of mine had barricaded himself, was behaving irrationally, and was threatening to harm others as well as himself. Initially, we were able to calm down this man, who it turned out had become addicted to amphetamines and had also been drinking heavily -- and his reactions were highly volatile and dangerous. Police had succeeded in getting him to relinquish his gun.
But then something suddenly triggered a violent response. Just like in the movies, he grabbed an empty whiskey bottle by its neck, smashed the bottle against a table, and was coming at the police officer with a lethal weapon of jagged glass. I was standing a few feet away.
Before I could quite apprehend what was happening, the officer whipped out his gun and very accurately shot the man in the leg at fairly close range; he went down, the officer was able to subdue him, and then we had a man with a shattered tibia -- but still alive.
He would wear a leg brace the rest of his life because of nerve damage. A 12 step program helped him gain control of his addictions, and long-term psychotherapy helped work through some deep emotional problems that led to all of this -- and he was able to resume his work as a physician.
In that small apartment bedroom, a well-trained, quick-thinking, police officer spared my patient's life and kept us all safe long enough to address the underlying problems.
But that's not the way it is done today, apparently. In case after case that we're hearing about, there seems to have been no attempt simply to disable by wounding; instead the officers shoot to kill. Here's what Siddiqui says about that:
Members of law enforcement are legally permitted to use deadly force when they have probable cause to believe that a suspect poses a threat of serious physical harm either to the officer or to others. In such cases, most officers are trained to shoot at a target's center mass, where there is a higher concentration of vital areas and major blood vessels . . . .John Firman, director of professional services for the International Association of Chiefs of Police, explained that attempting to shoot an arm or leg is too impractical; limbs move too fast, and it's easy to miss. Firman made it crystal clear:
"In all policy everywhere on force in any law enforcement agency in America, the bottom line statement should read: If you feel sufficiently threatened or if lives are threatened and you feel the need that you must use lethal force, then you must take out the suspect."Some say that a debate over shooting to wound vs shooting to kill is misleading, because often the situations are so volatile and escalate so rapidly, and they require split-second decisions. I'm sure that's true; but I am very grateful that, on a Saturday morning some 35 years ago in Decatur, GA, a police officer -- whose name I no longer know -- had been trained that it is better to shoot to wound . . . rather than to kill.
It gave all of us a second chance to make things right.