Saturday, November 2, 2013
report in The New York Times
It was the latest in the department’s two-year run of an unusually high number of unintentional shootings of innocents. Last August, police wounded nine bystanders while unloading 16 rounds at a suspect who’d just shot a co-worker on the street near the Empire State Building. In separate cases last year, cops wounded four other bystanders.
Gun battles and shoot-don’t-shoot decisions can be appallingly hard for even experienced cops to handle well. Low light, suspects in motion, and combat stress all affect accuracy and judgment. Criminologist David Klinger of the University of Missouri-St. Louis tells the story of a SWAT officer involved in an early-morning arrest of four suspects driving a van. When one of them raised a pistol, the officer fired several rounds from almost point-blank range—three or four feet away. One of the bullets missed completely, hitting a second suspect, and the rest hit the first suspect in his extremities instead of his chest, where the officer had been aiming.
In those adrenaline-filled encounters, good training more often than not makes the difference. Practicing realistic simulations of live fire allows cops to make better decisions and hit what they’re shooting at. In many jurisdictions, however, they aren’t getting enough or the right kind of weapons training, in part because of cuts to police-training budgets. That puts both bystanders and sometimes police in the line of fire, and local governments on the hook for big payouts.