to Retire is a continuing series of articles written for
the PATC Briefing dedicated to officer safety and survival.
It is written with the intent to increase awareness of the
dangers faced by law enforcement professionals and provide
meaningful solutions and options to reduce risk. Comments,
article submissions, and critique are always sought from
"Police Shootings" This phrase evokes a host
of emotion and accompanying issues for different aspects
of the criminal justice system.
To the administrator the concerns include:
Law suits, policy issues, community relations issues, morale
problems, and of course officer injury.
For prosecutors, legal advisors and even defense attorneys:
Current up to date research is vital for proper adjudication
of criminal and civil matters.
For officers currently tasked with the responsibility of
investigating police shootings: The correlation of the physical
evidence and the statements by those involved can mean the
difference between freedom and incarceration or discipline
For officers still on the streets:
Career, discipline, life and death.
When the subject of the shooting is deceased and the fatal
wound is in his back the first response is "Oh no,
now we have a problem". Well, maybe and maybe not.
The research examined here will assist all levels of the
criminal justice system prove that an officer can shoot
in response to an action, with the subject facing him/her,
and the wounds can still be in the back or on the side.
Some ground breaking research on action versus reaction
time has been done that is having a direct impact on these
issues. This research is on the difference in the action
(of the subject) versus the reaction times (of the officer)
in shooting incidents. This research was completed in two
separate areas of the country by two separate groups of
individuals, with amazingly similar results. These results
are monumental in terms of post shooting evaluation.
The individuals responsible for this research are Dr. Bill
Lewinski and Dr. Bill Hudson in Minnesota and Dr. Martin
L. Fackler in Florida and Ernest J. Tobin in Georgia.
Dr. Lewinski is a professor of Law Enforcement at Minnesota
State University, Mankato. He has studied lethal force encounters
for over 25 years and is on the National Advisory Board
of the Police Marksman. Dr. Bill Hudson is Chairperson of
the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at Minnesota
State University, Mankato.
Dr. Fackler is a retired Colonel in the United States Army
and a medical doctor. His is the Director of the Wound Ballistics
Institute and currently resides in Hawthorne, Florida. Mr.
Tobin is the Firearms Training Coordinator, Georgia Public
Safety Training Center, Forsyth Georgia.
Dr. Fackler's study involves the measurement of action
versus reaction time using auditory stimulus and was conducted
in three parts. In the first part "'listen for the
buzzer and then fire as fast as you can." This was
done and timed both with the officer's finger on the trigger
and with the officer's finger outside the trigger guard.
In the second part of his research decision making scenarios
were introduced forcing the involved officers to “multi-task",
in other words think then shoot. Again the times were recorded
with both the finger on the trigger and with the finger
outside the trigger.
An additional aspect of this study was to measure the amount
of time it takes a person to turn their body 90 and 180
degrees. The two individuals used in this part of the study
were both males who were active and well proportioned physically.
One was 35 and the other 45 years old.
In the third part of Dr. Fackler's studies the time required
to stop shooting as a result of auditory stimulus was measured.
The results of this study were amazing and eye opening.
This study shows that, on average a person can turn 90 degrees
faster than another individual can fire their drawn handgun
with their finger ON the trigger. Additionally, an individual
can turn 180 degrees faster than an officer can fire their
drawn handgun with their finger OFF the trigger.
While the differences are short, fractions of a second,
the implications are enormous. An officer can shoot in response
to stimulus, with the subject facing him/her and still the
wounds can be in the back. These studies were conducted
in a controlled laboratory situation without the distractions
of weather, lighting and is unaffected by other issues such
as the level of "street experience" or the emotional
condition of the involved officer. In unrelated testing,
stress accounted for 50 to 100% increases in action versus
reaction response time.
With the above factors in mind, imagine a scenario where
it is dark, raining, and cold and you have to shoot. How
long would it take you? Faced by a capable adversary who
starts firing immediately, using these studies and the information
available in them you could be hit four or five times before
you could pull the trigger for your first shot. And that
is assuming you already had your gun out of the holster.
Dr. Lewinski's research (The Tempe Study) also has far
reaching implications for investigators, administrators,
prosecutors, defense attorneys and street officers.
In an article Dr. Lewinski published with Dr. Bill Hudson,
Dr. Lewinski states: '"The essence of the Tempe Study
was to understand how principles of perception, processing
and reacting apply to officer involved shootings. Hopefully
this effort will lead to a better understanding of the human
parameters of the concept of ""immediate"
in lethal force encounters and explore the human elements
in the lethal force equation."
In the Tempe Study Dr. Lewinski and Dr. Hudson utilized
102 officers from the Tempe, Arizona Police Department.
These officers were tested on five separate experiments.
These tests differ from Dr. Fackler's because the triggering
mechanism for the action portion is visual not auditory.
Traditional scientific research indicates that visual stimulus
has slower than a reaction to auditory stimulus.
Dr. Lewinski and Dr. Hudson's "Tempe Study" studied
several principles. The first principle was basic reaction
time just as Dr. Fackler. A second principle was the impact
of split attention on trigger pull reaction. This second
principle can be compared to driving and talking on a cell
phone. During lethal force encounters officers are definitely
"multi-tasking". This multi-tasking is physical,
(running, ducking, pointing, seeking cover) and mental (shoot
don't shoot, fear and many other emotions).
Administrators and investigators alike need to be familiar
with this research in order to make legally sound judgments
regarding officer involved shooting incidents. Additionally,
prosecutors need to make the judiciary aware of this scientifically
valid research in order to make informed decisions regarding
not only civil liability but the virtual freedom of the
Detailed examination of the results of these studies and
this type of research will help everyone involved in this
process understand that "immediate" does not occur
"immediately" but takes time. Do not judge until
the facts are all in. And definitely do not voice these
judgments until all the facts have been examined.
Dr. Lewinski and Dr. Hudson's research and articles concerning
their researched may be obtained on the Web at °ultimateperformancetraining.com".
Dr. Fackler and Mr. Tobin's research and articles can be
obtained from the Journal of the International Wound Ballistics
Association's Wound Ballistics Review, Volume 3 No. 1, and
Volume 5 Issue 2.
Two other articles recommended are ""What You
Need to Tell the Prosecutor in Your Next Use-of-Force Case
by Joe Weeg and "Stress Reactions Related to Lethal
Force Encounters" by Bill Lewinski, Ph.D. Both of these
articles are available on Dr. Lewinski's website or in "Police
1. Can a person turn their back to you faster than you can
pull the trigger?
2. Does the fact that officers are actively multi-tasking
during a shooting have any impact on the speed at which
they can shoot?
3. Should you voice opinions without a complete examination
of all the facts?