Training to ‘Shoot the Leg’ Will Get Police Officers Killed

Dangerous media coverage of non-lethal shooting PR stunts

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This is a follow up to my story Why Police Can’t Shoot the Leg about the reporter who asked why the Columbus, Ohio police officer didn’t use a non-lethal method to stop 16-year-old named Ma'Khia Bryant from stabbing another girl.

Law enforcement is starting to take a knee to the public pressure to shoot a leg.  Police agencies around the country are ordering officers be trained to shoot - but not kill - and the media loves it. This method of response to a deadly threat is misinforming the public and may result in more officers killed in the line of duty.

A police department in Georgia has started training officers in what it calls “Shoot to Incapacitate,” according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.  The LaGrange Police Department started training officers in February to aim for the pelvic area and thighs instead of the head or torso.

The police chief who created this concept, Lou Dekmar, clearly cooperated with the newspaper reporter who wrote about him in a very flattering light. The reporter wrote that:

The course is the first of its kind in Georgia and could well be a first in the nation. It teaches officers that in some instances where they are authorized to use deadly force, they have the option to aim for the pelvic region, abdomen, legs and arms of a person posing a threat. The idea is that a gunshot to these areas, while still potentially deadly, could stop the threat while increasing the chance that the wounds will not be fatal.

(Chief Dekmar is not a small town cop. He is part of a new national “Task Force on Policing” which is working to identify policies “most likely to reduce violent encounters between officers and the public.” The other members are on this page.) 

I spoke to several police officers today about the “Shoot to Incapacitate” newspaper story. They all said the story doesn’t explain that it is almost impossible to accurately shoot a small area like the pelvis on a moving target in a stressful situation. 

“I hope no one comes to me to say we have to do this. It’s unrealistic.”

“It’s not even feasible to practice shooting to wound.”

"They are firing at targets on sticks that are stationary.  They are fooling themselves. "

The firing at targets on sticks is a reference to the photo in the newspaper of the LaGrange police standing still and using the iron sights on their guns to carefully aim at a static paper target. This is not training for real life, when the bad guy is moving all over, there are bystanders and the officer is under stress so not able to stand still to carefully air and accurately shoot a small area like a leg. 

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The other issue with this kind of training even being publicized is it further perpetuates the false notion that the police officers could just as easily shoot to wound. One officer said that the public response to this will be along the lines of, “You’ve been lying to us all along, you can shoot the leg.” 

And then consider what happens if the officer aims for a leg and misses and kills the suspect.  “The ‘Shoot to Incapacitate’ training opens up a can on worms,” said an officer in a department with a high level of crime. “Striking an area like the pelvic or abdomen is going to take a better aimed shot.  Even if an officer intends to shoot the leg and hits center mass, we are in a mess.”

Other jurisdictions are also putting money into policing plans that they think will reduce the likelihood of a bad guy getting shot by a cop. 

The Salt Lake City Police Department is promoting “non lethal” training to the media. The department had a press conference and let reporters --like this  local TV station-- shoot modified shotguns that fire “super sock” rounds which is a small bag of pellets that supposedly can hurt the suspect but not kill. This is what the department said officers are trained to do:

“If we’re hitting them in the arm, the goal is to get them to drop that knife,” says Lt. Alma Sweeny of the SLCPD Training Unit. “There is some pain associated with it that is preventing them from picking that knife up again or continuing to do the action they were doing.” 

The local newspaper wrote that these “beanbag guns” can’t kill. But it also said the “Officers are trained to avoid shooting a person with the head, throat or groin areas if possible.”

The TV reporter declared that the police now have a “less lethal option” with these shotguns. The media did not explain how an officer could keep a subject at a distance and not move toward him. The story does not tell the viewers what the police do when the bad guy gets close with a handgun and the officer only has a shotgun with a few pellets to defend himself. The paper only said there would be another officer with a real gun “nearby.” That is why reporters who don’t know anything about shooting and policing can misinform the public and make things worse. 

As I wrote in April, other than the “shoot the leg” nonsense, the other major public misconception about policing is that a gun can be replaced by a Taser.  I’ve reported in the past about the DC police union pushing to get Tasers as an option but no one on the force here thinks it can replace a gun. (Read that story here. The video is no longer online.)

That is not the case in Charleson, West Virginia. The mayor reacted to police shooting and wounding a man who came at them with a knife by mandating that all officers get trained and armed with stun guns. The officers in the bodycam video are heard asking for a Taser when the knife-wielding man - who was going for suicide by cop - was at a distance and had his back to them. But even when they got the stun gun, the man lunged at them with the knife, which can only be stopped by a real firearm. Nevertheless, Mayor Amy Goodwin wrote to the police chief that, “the need to train our police officers in de-escalation and use of non-lethal force is critical.” 

If you’re still wondering why the officers needed to use a gun in both Ohio and West Virginia, just imagine you’re on the street and a man comes running at you holding a knife in your direction. Do you think you can use your hands or mace or a stun gun to save your own life? 

The media who cover these new “non fatal” methods of shooting bad guys are telling the public information that is wrong and putting police officers in more danger on the job. The reporter who wrote the story about the LaGrange training, wrote about the simple concept of shooting center mass to stop a threat like this: 

This method, while effective, has contributed to the roughly 1,000 fatal police shootings each year and helped plunge law enforcement agencies, and the communities they serve, into crisis after crisis. contributed to the roughly 1,000 fatal police shootings each year and helped plunge law enforcement agencies, and the communities they serve, into crisis after crisis. 

This is deadly serious. So how can a major newspaper get away with printing that shooting center mass -- aka shooting to hit the target --  has “contributed” to fatal police shootings?  If that is the case, so has the invention of the firearm. And God creating man. The earth circling the sun also can take some blame. 

A real reason that police are in “crisis after crisis” is that most reporters refuse to educate themselves on the basics of firearms and policing. So they ask questions like why didn’t you shoot the leg? Why didn’t you use a Taser? The result is that most Americans are getting their information from bad police TV shows instead of a legitimate news source.

While there are some cases of bad cops like Derek Chauvin, the other 99% go out every day and try to keep us all safe. They put their lives on the line for us. They face the crazy guy running at them with a knife and saying, “shoot me.” They pull up their car and see a teenage girl about to stab another girl pinned to a car and know they are the only way one who can save her life. They see the worst of human evil.

They don’t want to kill anyone. It’s the last thing they want on their conscience and part of their career legacy. They want to protect us and go home to their families at the end of the day. But they can only do those things if they are willing to shoot and kill. I couldn’t do it. I’m glad I can call 911 and a police officer will come 24/7. So we have to stop beating up the entire police force before they all retire and quit on us.

To start, there needs to be accountability in the media about covering these new “non lethal” police ideas by balancing the PR stunt with interviews with police who will explain the reality about what is necessary to protect society from dangerous criminals. 

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