Between 2010 and 2019, 511 officers have been feloniously killed. Thirty-eight of those officers were killed by means other than a firearm, and the means of death of 15 of those 511 officers not being reported. We can reasonably assume that the number of officers killed by a firearm between 2010-2019 is 458 officers. The FBI provides a number of different statistics surrounding these officers death including, time of day and work assignment.
It is important to look at these instances from a tactical and marksmanship perspective. After actions and debriefs are a great way to discover lessons to avoid making the same mistakes in the future. If we can closely determine likelihoods, probabilities, and statistics regarding law enforcement related deaths from gunfire, we can tailor our training accordingly.
Reflecting on the three officers that I am closely familiar with who have been killed in the line of duty (with firearms), they all had one thing in common, none of them fired their own weapon in these encounters. As I began looking into more instances around the country it seemed as if this was a commonality.
Out of 458 officers who were killed with firearms during this period (2010-2019) only 107 of those officers fired their weapon. That indicates that 351 officers did not fire their firearm. Most of those officers (263) did not attempt to use their firearm. This data indicates that you are far more likely to survive a lethal encounter if you use your firearm, regardless of hits or misses.
An argument could be made that the reason officers who fire their firearm survive is because they are great marksman, and we know this is not true. In one of the most recent police hit factor studies of Dallas police over a 10-year period showed the overall hit factor to be 35%. You could look at incidents where officers discharged their weapons and survived on a micro scale. To do that incidents should be compiled based on the actual risk of serious bodily injury or death instead of the perceived threat. Incidents where, in hindsight, the officer was not actually at risk of serious bodily injury or death would convolute the data collection.
However, I believe one main factor that leads to a high likelihood of chances of survival if the officer fires their gun is physiological in nature. Incoming gunfire can be self-correcting. It can, and usually does, change behavior, especially if we get hits (regardless of where we hit). Although the data isn’t readily available, of those 107 officers who fired their gun and still killed, the percentage of those who fired first is likely very low.
Incoming gunfire changes the physiological and psychological factors from a perceived threat to an actual threat. Often gunfire will cause the bad guy to get out, get small, get away or ultimately give up.
In 2006 Kenneth Murray wrote “During life-threatening encounters, officers often end up waiting until the last possible moment, or until it’s too late to choose lethal force if this choice is made at all” (Training for the Speed of Life). This was relevant enough information to be published in 2006, and we see from incidents occurring today it is still relevant. On July 18th, 2019, a Stone County Sheriff responded to a domestic disturbance. During the investigation the suspect came to the door with a firearm. The deputy told the suspect to put the firearm down, but before the deputy could react the suspect raised the gun and began firing at him, ultimately killing him.
We know that most officers who are killed never fire a round or try to. How do we fix this problem. Real life encounters occur in anything but a static controlled environment. In the real world there are real implications for actions or inactions. In real life encounters there are physiological and psychological factors that can only be closely replicated in reality-based training.
Since we know marksmanship isn’t the main factor resulting in law enforcement deaths from gunfire, the data indicates that survival will be largely based on putting yourself in a position to win. You could argue that putting yourself in a position to have a chance carries even more relevancy. You should do this by understanding what is known as the “OODA Loop” decision making model.
The OODA Loop stands for Observe, Orient, Decide and Act. The model indicates that the person who can cycle through this decision-making process first will likely win the encounter. It is important to not only understand the OODA Loop as a philosophical idea but also understand how you can put it in to practice. To learn how to apply this model in different situations, you must expose yourself to scenario-based training. This is where you will build the understanding of placing yourself in a position to win, and giving yourself the time and opportunity, you need to react.