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Old July 12, 2005, 07:38 AM   #1
skidmark
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research data on LEO shootings - part 1

Force Science News #23
July 11, 2005
www.forcesciencenews.com
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The Force Science News is provided by The Force Science Research Center, a non-profit institution based at Minnesota State University, Mankato.
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STUDY REVEALS IMPORTANT TRUTHS HIDDEN IN THE DETAILS OF OFFICER-INVOLVED SHOOTINGS

Ideas for research projects can germinate from the least likely moments, as when a student asked Firearms Trainer Tom Aveni if he'd ever visited the ACLU's website. He hadn't ("Why would I even want to go there?"), but out of curiosity he did.

There in a section dedicated to "police abuse" he read a statistic he regarded as probably exaggerated: that 25 per cent of all law enforcement shootings involve unarmed suspects. That launched him on a long and continuing quest for more details about officer-involved gunfights that has turned up a series of surprising--and disturbing--findings.

Not only did the ACLU statistic turn out to be not as far off as he imagined but Aveni has made other unexpected discoveries--pertaining especially to hit ratios, low-light shootings, multiple-officer confrontations, mistaken judgment calls and less-lethal technology--that have convinced him police firearms training needs a significant overhaul.

"There's little resemblance between what we train officers for and what they actually encounter on the street," he told Force Science News recently. "There are glaring deficiencies in the way cops are prepared for what turn out to be fairly typical circumstances in gunfights."

Dr. Bill Lewinski, executive director of the Force Science Research Center at Minnesota State University-Mankato, says that by pursuing "important and different kinds of questions," Aveni has produced "valuable new insights into officer-involved shootings." His findings are expected to provide "a cutting-edge demographic foundation" for upcoming research projects at FSRC that hopefully will result in "profound changes in law enforcement training in the future."

An ex-cop with 23 years' training experience, Aveni now heads the Police Policy Studies Council, a research, training and consulting corporation based in Spofford, NH, and is a member of FSRC's National Advisory Board, as well as a busy expert witness in police litigation. Like other trainers, he says, he "made a lot of assumptions that are not true" until his research provided "an epiphany for me" about some of the nuances of police shootings.

He was struck first by how tough it is to find out anything meaningful on the subject from law enforcement agencies. Most don't compile detailed data on their shootings, fearing in some cases (perhaps rightly) that it would be misinterpreted and misused by the media and "agenda activists" if available. Of the few departments that do collect deadly force information, "even fewer freely share it," Aveni claims. If they don't outright suppress it, they tend to present it in bare-bones, "sterilized table formats" that have no standardized consistency and that "make detailed analysis difficult." Aveni observes: "The devil is in the details, and the details of police shootings have always been lost."

After refusals to cooperate by a variety of agencies, he finally was able to secure 350 investigative narratives of officer-involved shootings in Los Angeles County, CA. These concerned incidents experienced primarily by L.A.
County Sheriff's deputies, plus cases investigated by LASD for smaller municipal agencies, across a 5-year period.

Aveni spent more than 6 months dissecting that material according to different variables. That information, combined with limited statistics he managed to obtain related to shootings on other major departments, including New York City, Baltimore County (MD), Miami, Portland (OR) and Washington (DC), has allowed him to spotlight a number of deadly force subtleties that have not been so thoroughly examined before.

For example, it has long been believed that officers overall have a dismal
15-25 per cent hit probability in street encounters, suggesting truly poor performance under the stress of a real shooting situation. Actually, this figure, while essentially true in the aggregate, is markedly skewed by certain shooting variables, Aveni found.

During a 13-year span, the Baltimore County PD, which Aveni regards as one of the best trained in the country, achieved an average hit ratio of 64 per cent in daylight shootings-not ideal, but clearly much better than commonly believed. In shootings that occurred in low-light surroundings, however, average hits dropped to 45 per cent, a 30 per cent decline. The data from Los Angeles County (LAC) reveals a somewhat comparable 24 per cent decline.

"Until this research," Aveni says, "performance has never been accurately matched to lighting conditions," even though as many as 77 per cent of police shootings are believed to occur under some degree of diminished lighting. Some departments tally "outdoor" versus "indoor" shootings, but most appear not to precisely differentiate between low-light and ample-light events, despite the preponderance of shootings during nighttime duty tours.

A multiple-officer shooting, in which more than one officer fires during a deadly force engagement, has an even greater influence on hit probability, Aveni discovered.

According to the LAC data, when only one officer fired during an encounter, the average hit ratio was 51 per cent. When an additional officer got involved in shooting, hits dropped dramatically, to 23 per cent. With more than 2 officers shooting, the average hit ratio was only 9 per cent--"a whopping 82 per cent declination," Aveni points out.

Multiple-officer shootings, Aveni told Force Science News, are three times more likely to involve suspects with shoulder weapons than single-officer shootings. This tends to "increase the typical stand-off distance," he says. Many of these confrontations also embody fast-changing, chaotic and complex circumstances. These factors, Aveni believes, help explain the negative impact on accuracy.

Aveni also discovered a correlation between multiple-officer shootings and number of rounds fired.

With LAC shootings involving only one officer, an average of 3.59 police rounds were fired. When 2 officers got involved, the average jumped to 4.98 rounds and with 3 officers or more to 6.48. "The number of rounds fired per officer increases in multiple-officer shootings by as much as 45 per cent over single-officer shootings," Aveni says.

Again, he judges distance to be a likely factor. "A higher volume of fire may be used to compensate for the lower hit ratio as distance increases,"
he speculates. He believes the highly violent nature these events often present may be influential, too. Anecdotally bunch shootings appear to encompass "many of the barricaded gunman scenarios, drawn-out foot and vehicular pursuits, subjects experiencing violent psychotic episodes, gang attacks and encounters involving heavily armed suspects," such as the infamous FBI Miami shootout and the North Hollywood bank robbery street battle.

"Emotional contagion," where officers fire merely because others are shooting, is almost certainly an element of at least some multiple-officer shootings, Aveni concedes. But the extent of this assumed influence is difficult if not impossible to document. Certainly the claim, sometimes made after high-profile group shootings, "that cops are firing their weapons empty in panic, is not supported by the facts," he stresses.
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Old July 12, 2005, 07:40 AM   #2
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part 2

The shooting of unarmed suspects is another phenomenon on which Aveni's research sheds new light.

The ACLU's statistic that got him started on this project turned out to be based on fatal shootings that occurred before the landmark Supreme Court decision Tennessee v. Garner, when nearly half the states still legally permitted the shooting of any fleeing felon, regardless of the threat he or she presented. After the restrictions imposed by Garner, "you'd expect fewer unarmed suspects to be shot," Aveni explains.

Not necessarily true, though, Aveni found. In a recent 12-year period, Metro-Dade (Miami) PD reported 34 shootings in which suspects were "clearly unarmed" or in which officers thought they saw a gun but none was found.
All told, about a third of all shootings in which suspects were shot and killed by that agency's officers were considered "questionable." In a recent Texas study, 25 per cent of suspects shot by officers in one metropolitan county were found to be unarmed, 33 per cent if shots fired at moving vehicles are included. LAC's data put the unarmed target figure at
18 per cent, well below the ACLU's pre-Garner assertion.

Higher or lower, many of these shootings are "mistake-of-fact" (MOF) situations, Aveni says. Usually a suspect is displaying an item that is falsely but reasonably perceived to be a deadly weapon (a cell phone, for example), or the suspect is behaving in such a way that in context is believed to constitute an immediate lethal threat (making a fast, furtive movement toward the waistband, for instance).

A "significant number" of MOF shootings involve "other misleading threat cues," such as one or more officers seeing a fellow officer stumble and fall and wrongly believing he is under attack. "When an officer's fall involves a unintentional discharge of his firearm," Aveni says, "it can set off a powerful chain of events."

Aveni points out that 51 per cent of the time furtive movement was involved in the MOF shootings. As many as 75 per cent of the MOF shootings he examined occurred at a time of day that "we'd generally associate with reduced light conditions." (Yet in only one report was there any indication that officers used flashlights to better identify possible threats!)

"I've joked for a long time that given low light and the right contextual cues, I could get Mother Teresa to shoot the Pope," Aveni says. "Cops never think they'd shoot an unarmed person inappropriately. But on the street when they have to make split-second decisions, it can happen easier than they think."

Finally, the number of shootings that followed unsuccessful attempts to use less-lethal alternatives surprised Aveni. In 12 per cent of the LAC incidents, control of suspects was first tried with beanbag munitions, OC spray, Tasers or some combination thereof.

In some cases, officers were injured because deadly force could not be delivered fast enough when less-lethal options failed. He fears that officers may be placing too much faith in the success of less-lethal technology and not having a deadly force alternative ready as a failsafe.

In other cases, deployment or threatened deployment of less-lethal devices seemed to "actually provoke subjects to do something aggressive. They decided to attack rather than wait for these devices to be used against them," Aveni says. Because definitive information is skimpy, he believes further investigation is needed, with an eye to refining tactical strategies.

What's most important about his research, Aveni feels, is the wake-up call it embodies for American law enforcement training. He explains:

"Good risk management would suggest that resources should be allocated to problems that are seen frequently and to infrequent problems that are very severe when they do arise. We don't allocate resources that way in firearms training. In fact, training by and large has been part of the problem, not part of the solution."

Use of deadly force is infrequent in the full sphere of police performance, yet its consequences in terms of life and lawsuits are severe. Within the realm of police shootings, Aveni's findings identify commonalities that do arise frequently, such as confrontations in low-light settings, mistakes of fact and judgment and the phenomenon of multiple officers shooting. Yet for the most part "we have neglected these issues or have only paid lip service to them in training," he charges.

"We are forced to try to accomplish too much in too little training time.
Because of limited range time, firearms instructors are forced to heavily emphasize a lot of shooting in order to build that important proficiency.
This results in a disproportionate amount of time spent with scenarios in which officers need to pull the trigger. This, in turn, creates an emphasis on a 'muzzle-heavy' approach and the over-emphasis on the handgun as a problem-solving tool.

"On the street, this contributes to the problem of officers putting themselves in untenable situations tactically and then feeling compelled in often unclear circumstances to shoot." He cites a case from the Midwest in which an officer pursuing a suspect with minor outstanding warrants followed him into a dark alley. The officer did not wait for backup and did not make use of his flashlight. As he doggedly ran after the suspect, the pursued man suddenly turned toward him. The officer shot and killed him.
The suspect was unarmed.

"This is the kind of behavior we see in a lot of shootings," Aveni says.
"An officer is so focused on apprehension that he runs into a tactically untenable situation, oblivious to the risk or subconsciously willing to subjugate his personal safety to the goal of apprehension." He likens this to the "prey drive" sometimes seen in dogs, where the master throws a stick into the middle of a busy highway and the tunnel-visioned dog chases it, unconcerned about the dangers involved.

Aveni draws another dog analogy--"fear biting"--which he feels results from the heavy use of fear as a motivational tool in training cops. "On the street, officers often exhibit 'fear biting' after drawing their handguns and then engaging in inherently unsafe firearms handling, like putting their finger on the trigger for emotional comfort. I think this is a downside of using disproportionate lethal force scenarios in training."

Another example of fear interfering with good tactics and promoting questionable shootings is the prevalent reluctance to use a flashlight in dim light environments. "If we now have confirmed that as many as 18 to 33 per cent of police shootings are in the mistake-of-fact genre and that as many as 75 per cent of those occur in low light, we should be conditioning officers to deploy their flashlights when walking into potentially threatening situations where they can't clearly see what's unfolding.

"There's concern about a flashlight becoming a 'bullet magnet'-and it might, if used improperly. But in all my years of research I have never been able to document a single case of an officer being shot because he was using his flashlight. I've found no statistical evidence whatever of this much-feared consequence ever happening."

Some of the problems highlighted by Aveni's research Lewinski plans to address in FSRC experiments now in development. "We have a major project awaiting funding on the influence of contextual cues on decision-making,"
he says. "Another is underway regarding hit probability.

"Tom Aveni's research lays out an ambitious playing field for us and will help greatly in designing some of our research and, ultimately, in developing better training methodologies for the future."

FORCE SCIENCE is a registered trademark of The Force Science Research Center, a non-profit organization based at Minnesota State University, Mankato.
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Old July 12, 2005, 08:25 AM   #3
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Very interesting and for the most part sounds reasonable.

Thanks
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Old July 13, 2005, 06:28 AM   #4
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This might have some validity. The info coming from some liberal Minn. University, to me, casts some doubt on their being open minded. The name of the Institute almost screams "I have an agenda".
As the old saying goes, "there are lies, damn lies, and statistics". Most of what has been shown here is statistics. We all know how easy they are to make up, and to manipulate.
I would like another opinion before I swallowd this one.
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Old July 13, 2005, 09:40 AM   #5
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***?

Mannlicher - actually, the person working on the study started out to disprove that wacked out ACLU. I think you are attaching the person with the wrong institution.
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Old July 13, 2005, 11:39 AM   #6
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It makes me wonder why whenever we get a study showing the police are not as good a shots as they are made out to be in the movies and have such a lack of training that they make mistakes its automatically the evil liberals out to destroy gunrights?

Many LEOs will happily inform you that they do have a lack of training in many parts of the country, alot have never been to an academy, training methods they do use are generally outdated or given little too time for if any and they are not getting enough scenerios that fit their type of work they are likely to be doing. Alot of this has to do with a lack of the police budget that has been getting less and less money assigned to it over the past 4 years or so and instead passed on to fancy bits of electronics that only work half as well as the tested methods.
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Old July 13, 2005, 12:05 PM   #7
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Very interesting. Thanks.
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Old July 13, 2005, 01:22 PM   #8
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I believe that LEO's should have more intense training and I would happily pay my taxes for them to do so.

What I think would be needed is that all hi-ranking street cops (not the desk jockeys) go to Front Site or some place like that and spend a couple of months there taking ALL the training. Come back, set up the same style courses and then have training one week out of the month (or two weekends) for ALL officers that carry guns for their job and train, train, train.

Just an idea.

Wayne
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Old July 13, 2005, 02:41 PM   #9
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I'm a new LEO

"Fresh" out of the academy (1 month). Those statistics sound about right. At least, they sound just like the ones we talked about at the academy. Officers do have a relatively low % of shooting accuracy. Reasons are offered for this, all kinds so I'll skip the speculations.

I thought the writer did excellent research and analysis of the shootings, remarking the accuracy rate, but also remarking the possible contributing factors such as low light, likely shooting distance, etc.

He was also very fair in the reporting of the unarmed deaths, stating that the ACLU's stats were pre-TN v Garner. He also said that over half of the shootings involved a furtive movement mistaken for "going for a gun" or the suspect having something that could reasonably been perceived as being a gun.

While the source of this research may be a liberal college, I'm not able to conclude that these stats are deliberately biased. I think it's a good article and stresses the fact that we LEO's are not perfect and could use a lot more training. At least more time at the range. (oh, drat! )
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Old July 13, 2005, 05:08 PM   #10
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Very interesting read. Thank You. I also believe that the intent was to be fair and balanced. As was stated this was initially an attempt to discredit the ACLU (who really doesn't need help in that dept. -PO). What has been reported here seems to be fact based, and research motivated. Good job.


Quote:
originally posted by jcoiii

While the source of this research may be a liberal college, I'm not able to conclude that these stats are deliberately biased. I think it's a good article and stresses the fact that we LEO's are not perfect and could use a lot more training. At least more time at the range. (oh, drat! )
Hang on to that attitude, and you will make a fine public servant, and LEO. There is too much of the brainwashing at the academies that the LEO is always right on the street. While it is necessary for the LEO to be in charge, and not arguementative, it does not equate to "I am always right, and the other person is always wrong"
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Old July 13, 2005, 05:10 PM   #11
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Questions

Philosophical reflections.

In the Army, we were trained to shoot specific positions at specific ranges on specific sized targets. The emphasis was not on reactive shooting, shooting at unknown ranges, shooting in low light, shooting on the walk, shooting on the run. Of course, our Captain had 14 better shooters don the uniform shirts of our poorer shooters and have them shoot requalification.

How is it in police training today? Is a police officer trained to shoot on the walk, shoot on the run, shoot in low light, cover 360 degrees and reactive shoot? Or is it at the level of shooting for score at known distances with a given course of fire? Well, I think you know the answer. So when the officer has to shoot on the run, the walk, cover 360 degrees and within low light, you shouldn't be surprised at th low hit ratio.

Philosophically, I don't understand the concern about what percentage of unarmed perps are shot. That's right guys. How many ordinary, honest citizens without rap sheets are actually gunned down each year because of a "furtive movement". Darned few! I don't say that the police should shoot JUST because someone runs away or the police should shoot JUST because some one is coming at them and declines to halt when ordered to do so. I simply ask you how many times does a squared away John ignore police commands? That is a tipoff that a policeman is facing problems.

Two Georgia Highway Patrolmen engaged an armed BG who advanced on them from 12 feet. Altogether, the policemen registered only 39 hits out of well over 60 rounds that they fired. The BG died at their feet. I looked at the autopsy pictures. Only about 1/3 of the hits would have eventually proved fatal.

Conversely, I saw on multiple occassions an instructor with just a few hours training do the following with fat, out-of-shape middle aged housewives. He put a target 12 feet away, the pistol on a piece of cardboard on the ground. On command, the woman would pick up the magazine, insert the magazine, shoot for the base of the throat as rapidly as possible. Then, when empty, put the pistol down on th cardboard, magazine removed. Then run with the empty magazine to a picnic bench 50 feet away to pick up a fresh magazine, run back to the gun, and start the process all over. This was done until the woman would have shot 50 rounds. Never a miss - same adrenaline - distance was futher than all the rounds fired by the highway patrol. quickshoot.com and turnipseedtechnique.com

At the bottom line, it is technique, not gun selection, not ammunition selection, not magazine capacity that makes the difference.
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Old July 13, 2005, 07:44 PM   #12
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bdc,

Just to give you (and hopefully others) a little hope, at training, we did a lot more than stand at the 3/7/15 yd lines and shoot to qualify. It was loads of fun!!! Of course, the above distances were used for the official qualification scores. But, we also did the following drills during range week.

1)day stress course. drive someone's squad car to a point. get out. run to shot-gun table. Combat load 5 slugs. shoot one standing/one kneeling at 25 yds. shoot three standing at 15 yds. combat load 5 00Buck shots. shoot one standing/one kneeling at 15 yds. move to 10 yds. shoot three standing. safe the shotgun, give to instructor. run short mini-obstacle course (overwalls, crawling etc). get eyes/ears for pistol shooting. (note: all my magazines were loaded by my partner. i had no idea how many were in each specific mag,but 24 rounds total for the course). run behind first cover. engage one target at 10yds?, two shots from left of cover, two from right. move across as fast as possible toward second cover. shoot one target twice while moving to cover. (reload only behind cover, so if you ran out during movement, cover up quickly!) engage one target from behind second cover 7yds? two shots right side, two left. move to doorway/window setup. shoot two rounds into window at target 5-7yds?. cover up. two more rounds at same target. move to doorway. kick doorway open. engage target 3yds? with two shots. move back toward first areas, toward a new cover. take cover and engage two moving targets 5-7yds. four shots from left, four from right. holster safe and empty weapon. (loads of fun)

2. Nighttime stress course. very similar to above. some differences, including no shotgun.

3. traffic stop. paper target looks like individual in a car with a weapon pointing out. walk up as if a regular traffic stop. when training officer yells "gun," retreat to cover (back of his car, behind yours, etc) and return first into target.

4. another stress course. drive up in cruiser. engage metal targets at ~25 and 50 yds. shoot for head move to range line. shoot any threats as you walk briskly down the line. two shots per threat. reload when empty.

we did several other FATS scenarios that week, but these live fire ones were great. along with the simunitions training. so,fear not. someone is trying to improve the training.
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Old July 13, 2005, 08:04 PM   #13
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Things not considered

Here is, how many LEO's are gun people, time spent in training at academy level must address new shooters, non-shooters, entry level types. So not much training time available for developing techniques. How many LEO's practice reguraly w/PR24's. ASP's, tazers, h to h techniques. Not many, budgets and overtime pay isn't readily available to accomadate such.
There are no easy answers, we put these people on the street and begin the real learning process. That's why academy training is refered to as Basic. LEO's who are gun oriented will go to a higher level (on his own), but how do you influence others that they may face questions not yet asked of them.
Ala LEO shoots man, who seconds before was setting beside him in cruiser, when car was mistakenly ID'ed as stolen by dispatch. One shot to the neck from across cruiser hood. No threat, car was a loaner, threat ceased when man ordered out of cruiser. 40 cal Glock, gun ruled at fault, why, to free department of blame? Clearly a training, fright response issue, by a 11 year veteran LEO. Why point gun? Why finger on trigger. Where was threat?
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Old July 13, 2005, 08:24 PM   #14
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Very interesting reading. Thanks for sharing!!
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Old July 13, 2005, 09:22 PM   #15
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I spent quite a few years conducting investigations into police shootings by my agency and other agencies. That's boots in the field, hands on, up close and personal investigations. There's one point which none of these studies, and none of the "experts" consider. In police shootings the police officer is always in a reaction mode. That is they have approached a situation which initially on its surface may appear to be low threat. Without warning the officer finds they are reacting to the offender's already drawn weapon or reacting after rds have already been fired in their direction. So the officer is returning fire from a point of disadvantage. It isn't like the arm chair commandos think, or far too many dream. It isn't shooting holes in paper. It isn't paintball. It isn't sims. Even force on force training with sims is nothing like the real thing. No matter how intense a paintball shooting may get you pumped it's still a paintball. You know the worst it's going to do to you is put a knot on you somewhere. And you also know that if an accident happens the RO stops the game. When the bullets are flying for real there is no knot and there is no RO timeout.
I've been shot at on 11 different occasions. From my own experiences and having talked to a good number of other officers involved in shootings there is one thing for certain. Each one is different. The way you react in one will be different than you react in another. The situations are different, your assessment of the situation is different, your environment is different.
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Old July 14, 2005, 10:07 AM   #16
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One of the most informative articles I have read. Thank you.
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