Why Law Enforcement Personnel Shoot to Kill

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October 23, 2017 | Originally published by Date Line: October 23 on

There are about 1,000 fatal shootings by police officers each year in the United States, according to a Bowling Green State University report from April.

Is lethal force always necessary? How do situations escalate so quickly? Why do officers shoot to kill? And how else can police defuse a potentially dangerous situation?

Officers are instructed to aim for the center mass of a person’s chest, because it is the target they are most certain to hit and is most likely to take the suspect down,” said Cedric Alexander, a nationally recognized policing expert and veteran police chief who is now the Deputy Mayor of Rochester, New York..

“The whole notion of shooting him in the leg, or shooting the knife out of someone’s hand in a stressful situation, that’s all television. That does not work in life,” said Alexander. “Police are trained to shoot center mass.”

If a suspect has a firearm, the officer will not aim at an arm or leg because they are more likely to miss and thus not stop the threat, agreed David Klinger, professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Missouri in St. Louis. Klinger is a nationally recognized policing expert and has done extensive research in officer-involved shootings.

Could simulators and virtual reality training that plunge officers into realistic scenarios to sharpen their decision-making about when and when not to fire their weapons be part of the solution? The law enforcement community is increasing the use of these systems to provide training related to judgmental use of force situational and scenario awareness, critical thinking, communication skills, decision-making under stress, reading body language and threat cues, and use of de-escalation techniques.