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Live 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 Briefing subscribers.

Shot in the Back, Now What?

"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 and exoneration.

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 officers involved.

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 Marksman Magazine".

Discussion points:
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?

 
 

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