A few weeks ago, President Joe Biden posed the following question during a speech about police officers, “Why should you always shoot with deadly force?”
This isn’t a joke. This was a real question. So, let’s give a real answer.
When a firearm is utilized and discharged by a police officer it is classified as “deadly force”. That is the category or classification of this level of force. That is because death is a possible and likely outcome. Therefore, “deadly force” is the most serious force option that a police officer has available to them.
In general police officers are only permitted to use “deadly force” under two circumstances:
- When an officer reasonably believes that a suspect poses an imminent threat of death or serious bodily harm to him/herself and/or another person;
- When a dangerous suspect of a crime (involving the infliction of serious physical injury) is attempting to flee and there is a danger to the public.
[In this article we will focus on #1 as the discussion around “fleeing felons” is a separate topic.]
In short, if an offender is in the act of attempting to seriously injure or kill a victim or the police officer – the officer can intervene with deadly force to stop the actions of the offender.
Most states have enacted laws and most police departments have enacted use of force policies that mirror this language.
This seems reasonable as most of us would prefer that a police officer intervene and shoot someone who was charging at us with a knife.
This also places limits on when police officers cannot utilize deadly force. Which is important because we typically want to live in a society where police officers only utilize the most serious level of force – when it is absolutely necessary to do so and always as a last resort.
Let me explain.. no, there is too much. Let me sum up!
Here is more of President Biden’s remarks, “We need to retrain cops. Why should you always shoot with deadly force? The fact is if you need to use your weapon, you don’t have to do that.”
President Biden’s statement likely sounded different in his head before he muttered the words.
Given the context – the President was (likely) trying to say that when a police officer utilizes their firearm against an offender – that the goal should not be “shoot to kill” but instead “shoot to injure”.
However, unintentionally, he suggested lowering the standards and expanding the circumstances on when police officers can utilize a firearm in the line of duty.
As it stands now, police officers can only utilize a firearm in “deadly force” situations – but President Biden recommended that we lower that and allow police officers to utilize firearms in situations that do not justify deadly force.
Think about that.
I should also point out that “shooting to wound” would simply not be lawful. This is because if a police officer utilized a firearm (a deadly force weapon) in a circumstance that did not warrant deadly force – those actions would run afoul of the legal standards for police use of force as set by Graham v. Connor.
Stop the Threat
President Biden’s asertation that police officers “shoot to kill” is nonsense. It is not a thing. That language is not part of any firearms and/or use of force training anywhere in the country.
Police officers are trained to shoot to “stop the threat”. For example, if there is a “deadly force” situation where an offender is charging at a victim with a knife – the officer will/should fire at the offender with the goal of preventing the stabbing. If the offender is struck by the gunfire and is no longer a threat – but still alive – the officer should not continue to fire. The goal of an officer in an officer-involved-shooting (OIS) is to STOP THE THREAT not kill the offender.
It is unlikely that President Biden knows this and purposely provided misinformation on this topic. There is just simply no way that he grasps these concepts. The failure is that federal law enforcement officials at the Office of the Attorney General, Department of Justice, Secret Service, FBI, etc… that do know and understand these concepts – have not been allowed to make a correction on his behalf.
In addition to police officers being trained to shoot to “stop the threat” – police officers are also trained to fire at “center mass” of their target.
Police officers are not trained or taught to shoot a knife out of someone’s hand or to shoot at the pinky toe of an offender who is running away. These are unrealistic expectations of police officers and laughable to anyone who has ever received even basic training on a firing range.
Shoot the Leg
Though it is probably obvious – let’s address why police officers do not simply shoot the leg, ear, or left ring finger of an offender.
Smaller targets are more difficult to hit with accuracy.
Police are often not shooting at a stationary target during an OIS. And shooting accurately at a moving target is a difficult task – even for highly training marksmen. Also, the smaller the moving target is – the more difficult it is to hit.
This is precisely why police officers are trained to shoot at “center mass” of their target – as that is the largest available area. The larger the target – the more likely that police officers will be successful in hitting the intended target. And if police officers are shooting at an offender to save a victim’s life – the victim would likely appreciate if police officers were accurate as time is likely of the essence.
Also, if a police officer shoots and misses – where does that round go? Does it hit an innocent bystander or go through the window of a nearby home? Therefore, it is important that police officers are as accurate with their shots as possible – as errant rounds could have devastating and unintended consequences.
We Already Know This
If President Biden made those remarks to a room full of law enforcement officers – there would be zero harm done – as everyone would immediately understand that he has no idea what he is talking about. No one would take the comments seriously.
But, not everyone listening to a Presidential speech is a subject-matter-expert on firearms, use of force, and rational thought.
The Turrell Brown Case
An example of a regular citizen having the same confusion over the realities of a deadly force police incident was exhibited in the aftermath of the Turrell Brown case.
In September of 2021 Chicago police officers were called by Mr. Brown’s girlfriend – who accused him of domestic violence. She told responding police officers that Mr. Brown had struck her in the face and threatened her with a knife.
As police made initial contact with Mr. Brown he armed himself with a knife, waved it around, advanced towards police, and refused to drop it after multiple commands to do so. In the spirit of not wanting to be stabbed to death – he was shot by Chicago police officers and sustained fatal injuries.
Mr. Brown’s mother (Angela Wade-Brown) made the following statement after the OIS, “They didn’t have to shoot to kill him. They could have shot him in the arm and for him to drop the weapon. They could have shot him in the leg. But they shot and they killed him.”
Essentially, Ms. Wade-Brown wanted to know why the police did not simply just shoot the knife out of his hand.
This is why misinformation on these issues from national political leaders is dangerous and cruel to a family that is suffering a loss.
“Shooting to wound” does not make sense scientifically, legally, or tactically.
Police officers should only use deadly force in response to a deadly threat. Threats to citizens or law enforcement that do not reach the level of a “deadly threat” should be met with a proportional level of force – which often is a Taser, beanbag shotgun, or 40mm launcher.
If President Biden had his way police officers would not be using these aforementioned less lethal force options but instead – would fire their guns at the arms and legs of offenders. So, what happens when an officer follows this advice, shoots someone in the leg in an attempt to injure, strikes the femoral artery, and the person bleeds out in under three minutes?
Would the officer be able to successfully argue that he was only trying to “injure” the person and that he was not trying to utilize deadly force? Will that explanation quell chaos and riots from anti-police activists?
Like with many simple opinions on complicated issues – they fall apart if you ask a few basic questions and dig even an inch deep.
This article originally appeared at the Police Law News Substack. You can subscribe to this excellent resource here.