Shooting at Moving Vehicles - Training -

Shooting at Moving Vehicles

Policy, equipment & tactical considerations

Jeff Chudwin | From the September 2006 Issue Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Waukesha, Wisc., Armed Robbery & Shootout

The Wales Bank in Waukesha, Wisc., was robbed by two gunmen wearing body armor and carrying .30-caliber rifles. During the ensuing pursuit, the father-son duo ambushed and murdered Waukesha Police Captain James Lutz. In the final moments, they hijacked a van and forced a citizen to drive them through a group of police units setting up containment. As the van was driven toward the police officers, the citizen driver was able to bail out. With the hostage clear of the van, officers fired on the offenders, who were firing on them. The offenders took control of the van and forced their way through. Heroic police action forced them to drive off the road and crash into a tree, and they were then taken into custody. The father and son were both convicted of murder and sentenced to life with possibility of parole after 100 years.

The officers actions were clearly within the law and the policy of the departments involved. The need to stop the offenders was obvious, and the threat to public safety if they escaped was extreme. The exchange of gunfire was caught on videotape and discussed at length around the country. Officers asked one another, What would we do? How would we get it done?

If this type of incident occurs in other towns and cities around the nation, officers firing on the escaping shooters would be in direct violation of written policy and may well be disciplined. Nationwide, agencies have adopted absolute language prohibiting officers from firing at or from moving vehicles. Such policy places officers who are under immediate threat of death by gunfire in the untenable position of risking death to comply. And if they fire in self-defense and/or to protect the public, they risk losing their job.

When I travel around the country teaching use-of-force and firearms training courses, I ask officers what their agency s policy is concerning shooting at or from moving vehicles. Many reply that they are prohibited by policy from acting. I then ask if, despite the written order, they would return fire in defense of their life, other officers and citizens if they are fired on in a drive-by shooting. Virtually all reply they would do so, but know they may suffer the effects of their actions long after the incident.

As we discuss officer safety and survival issues, it s clear absolute policy language that does not allow officers to actively and aggressively respond to high-level violent attacks is fundamentally flawed. This conflict between such agency policy and officer safety is unnecessary. To address this issue, agencies should simply take the same approach they take with all other difficult and dangerous job-related tasks: training, supervision/leadership and policy language that trusts the judgment and skills of the officer on the street.

Lawful, Understandable, Effective

Create policy that clearly informs the officer what the agency requires. Policy should not restrict officers more than state or federal law, or applicable court decisions. Don t base policy solely on agency/municipal liability concerns balance it with officer safety and survival needs. Policy should not force officers to stand down from needed actions to protect themselves or the public from injury or death.

Suggested policy language may include the following: Officers shall not shoot at or from a moving vehicle unless they reasonably believe there exists the use of force or threat of force likely to produce great bodily harm or death to the officer or another.

The newest patrol officer should be able to understand and carry out policy. But when use-of-force policies run more than a dozen pages and include unworkable absolutes, who can honestly believe their officers read, understood and are secure with the orders?

Bottom line: The most basic function of law enforcement is the safety and protection of the public. Policy must enhance both officer and citizen safety, not degrade it.


Officers must understand the effectiveness and limitations of firearms in stopping violent offenders using autos as attack platforms. Street incidents and field tests have shown that police handguns, rifles or shotguns cannot quickly or reliably stop a vehicle. To stop a vehicle quickly requires incapacitating or disabling the driver. And, to stop an attack from vehicle occupants requires skilled firearms use and ammunition that will penetrate laminate safety glass and sheet metal.

In the Waukesha incident, many dozens of varied handgun rounds were fired at the gunmen in the van. Lack of penetration by the projectiles coupled with the gunmen s armor protected the gunmen; it took the high-speed impact with a tree to put an end to this terrible event.

The Gurnee, Ill., Shootout

A gunman randomly murders a citizen. The first-responding officer is shot and wounded. Three other officers arrive, and two deploy .223 carbines with 55-grain polymer-tipped bullets. One officer locates and fires multiple rounds at the shooter, who is behind the windshield of his stopped auto, firing on the officers. Though well-aimed, the officer s bullets disintegrate on the laminate safety glass and have no wounding effect. The shooter runs for a building and is killed by a shot to the head.

This incident demonstrates superior police response, but inadequate bullet performance.

Solution:Make knowledgeable firearms and ammo choices for patrol officers that are effective in anticipated street confrontations.

The history of officer-involved street shootings shows that many happen in and around autos.

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Jeff ChudwinJeff Chudwin is the 2009 Law Officer Trainer of the Year, serves as chief of police for the Village of Olympia Fields, Ill.


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