by Lee Lofland, author of Police Procedure and Investigation
The most frequently asked question, by far, in all the seminars and workshops I've done over the years is, "Have you ever shot anyone?" The reactions I get when I say yes are varied; I've learned that people expect my answer to be no. I was once involved in an extremely violent shootout with an armed bank robber, and that day my training proved to be very effective. I survived, and the robber did not.
On any given day, a police officer may be required to use deadly force to save their own life or the life of another. In the far corners of their minds every officer wonders if they have what it takes to pull the trigger and send a tiny piece of hot lead on the path to end someone's life.
Police officers are not trained to fire warning shots, nor are they trained to shoot to wound. Those things only happen on TV and in the movies. The split second it takes to fire a warning shot may be just the amount of time the bad guy needs to kill the cop, a hostage, or an innocent bystander. The idea of shooting to wound is also unrealistic. In a tense situation, like a gunfight, a person's ability to think clearly or to aim for a precise target is diminished greatly by stress-induced tunnel vision.
Officers are trained to shoot for center mass, meaning the center of whatever target they are shooting at, be it an entire body or—in the case of a partially hidden suspect—the center of a visible extremity.
During training sessions, officers are taught to react instinctively. Their survival skills are sharpened by many repetitive exercises, much like the exercises we humans use to train our pets to sit, speak, and roll over. They spend hour after hour on the range, both in daylight and in total darkness, going through the motions of draw, point, shoot, and holster; draw, point, shoot, and holster; so that the action becomes second nature to them. It has been proven that, in stressful situations, police officers revert instantly to their training and react accordingly without thought.
Deadly force is always used as a last resort and, all too often, results not only in the death of the suspect, but also in the destruction of the lives of those left behind.