Police officers in the field face an array of threats to their safety on a daily basis; sometimes these threats warrant the use of deadly force against a suspect. Unfortunately, with the advent of the Internet the civilian public has learned in recent years that many officers throughout the Nation are quick to abuse power or jump the gun, so to speak, in using deadly force with alarming frequency.
Reports flooded the Internet yesterday about a series of paper targets produced by Law Enforcement Targets Inc. that depict non-traditional threats that law enforcement officers may encounter in the field. Below are images of the company’s targets included in the series “No More Hesitation”:
The company has secured more than $5 million in Federal money, mostly from the Department of Defense ($3,124,371) and the Department of Homeland Security ($1,913,489). The company also does business with the Department of Energy ($150,877), the Department of State ($133,812) and the Department of Veterans Affairs ($51,822).
The Moral Liberal’s senior editor, T.F. Stern, a retired police officer, penned a column pointing out that the “No More Hesitation” targets must exist for a reason and that the reason likely amounts to demand, as more law enforcement agencies adopt the mantra that anyone who isn’t a cop is a threat.
There’s something wrong, seriously wrong here. If we start to desensitize law enforcement officers, have them disregard humanity, to feel nothing’s wrong in shooting a pregnant lady or an old man with a shotgun inside his own home…then what kind of society have we become? How will police officers react after they no longer believe they are part of the society which they have been charged with policing, when they have become used to shooting pregnant ladies and old men?…
… Odd as it may sound coming from an old retired cop, if police recognition skills, the red flags that alert to danger were delayed for a moment, so be it; I’d rather get shot than develop the attitude that all or even most of my neighbors were a constant threat.
Stern’s mention of reaction time was probably in reference to a statement issued by Law Enforcement Targets Inc. to Reason, the publication that first broke the story: “This hesitation time may be only seconds but that is not acceptable when officers are losing their lives in these same situations. The goal of NMH is to break that stereotype on the range, regardless of how slim the chances are of encountering a real life scenario that involves a child, pregnant woman, etc. If that initial hesitation time can be cut down due to range experience, the officer and community are better served.”
The company also confirmed that law enforcement agencies have requested “No More Hesitation” targets specifically in the past.
While it is reasonable to believe that, over the course of a career, a police officer could encounter a pregnant shooter in a nursery or a boy younger than 10 with a weapon, it isn’t highly likely.
A report entitled “A Critical Analysis of Police Shootings Under Ambiguous Circumstances” published by The Police Policy Studies Council in 2008 gives some insight to the “critical microbehavioral issues that seem to have a significant cumulative effect on an officer’s decision to employ deadly force.” One interesting, and predictable, caveat in the report is that police often decide whether to shoot based upon visual characteristics of a suspect:
Officers/deputies are more likely to shoot when the subject is young (rather than old), in punk dress (rather than business dress)…
So, training officers to identify children, the elderly and pregnant women in the same threat category as young men in punk garb could have an impact on their willingness to open fire on members of the former group whether armed or not.
In a study conducted as part of the report, which involved using a video screen portraying actors — either armed or unarmed — turning in an officer’s direction, it is revealed why shaving reaction time almost to the point of “shoot first, ask questions later” can be a bad idea:
…[S]ince the officer’s decision to fire at the suspect predates the subject being shot .25 seconds or more, the officer can (and easily does) shoot the suspect as he/she is raising his/her hands into a “surrender” position. This was a frequent and somewhat unanticipated outcome in many of the shootings that involved “unarmed” suspects; suspects getting shot while “surrendering.” The officer typically has 1/3 of a second or less (from a critical juncture in each scenario) to decide whether or not to employ deadly force, and then to apply that force, before he/she risks being “shot.”
The results of the study point out what is already common knowledge: Regardless of an officer’s oath to “serve and protect,” the basic human instinct of self-preservation takes precedence in the face of a perceived threat.
The dangers faced by officers in the field should not be discounted, nor, though, should common sense in the name of faster draw time. Take, for instance, the overwhelming number of recent reports of educators throughout the Nation becoming shrieking alarmists at the sight of elementary-school students having pretend shootouts or bringing toy guns (even Hello Kitty bubble guns) to school in the wake of the tragic Sandy Hook shooting.
What happens if school officials call police the next time they suspect a child of having a toy gun? What happens if the child is wearing a “punk” T-shirt and acting defiant? And what happens if an officer trained to shoot a child without hesitation arrives on scene?
It may sound like a series of ridiculous considerations. But many people would likely think it ridiculous for officers to need to train with targets portraying pregnant women, children and elderly people in the first place.