Are the Bad Guys Better Shots?
Consider another sobering statistic from the 1997 FBI study, In the Line of Fire: Violence Against Law Enforcement. In 98 percent of the officer-involved shootings that were studied, the offender fired first. While the offenders had a 90 percent hit ratio, the officers, while firing second, had a 41 percent hit ratio. Is it because the bad guys practiced with their weapons more than the officers did? In some cases this may be true, but it is hardly the norm. Even if the offender has never had the advantage of highly trained and skilled law enforcement firearms instructor drilling into him the benefits of a proper stance and sight alignment.
It is said that the average gun battle, from start to finish, is over in seven seconds or less. The Los Angeles Police Department has statistics on file indicating that more than 37 percent of OISs occur within one minute of the officer's arrival on the scene. More than 35 percent occur within the first 30 seconds of the officer's arrival.
The FBI also discovered hat the majority of officer-involved shootings occur at less than 10 feet. In the dark, at 10 feet or less, with someone already shooting at you within 30 seconds of your arrival on the scene, and knowing that this fire-fight is going to be over in seven seconds or less, are you really going to be worrying about proper sight alignment?
So how do you explain the offender's higher hit ratio? Obviously some of it can be attributed to the willingness and preparedness on the part of the offender to take the officer's life. It takes less time for the offender to decide to shoot than it takes for the officer to realize he or she is under attack. However, a large percentage of it can be attributed to the fact that the offender, while not knowing it, had practiced point shooting. The offender pointed the weapon out in front of him and pulled the trigger as rapidly as he could.
Chances are the offender practiced this technique. The FBI has interviewed a number of offenders who have shot police officers and discovered that some of these individuals had practiced with their weapons at least once a month. How many of you have practiced that often?
To expect an officer to get a good sight picture and slowly squeeze off a round at someone who is hell-bent on trying to kill him or her is unrealistic. We need to take the natural, instinctive tendency of the officer to point the weapon directly out in front of him or her and pull the trigger as quickly as possible and develop the shooter's skills from that point forward.
Some of you may want to label this tactic as "Spray and Pray." If so, then why is the offender's hit ratio so much higher than ours? For those of you who have never heard of the term "Spray and Pray," it is a "scapegoat phrase" that is used to try to explain away the real reason an officer misses his target with a number of rounds when he is involved in an OIS. It is used to draw attention away from the real problem and that problem is the lack of realistic firearms training.
The cases of Popow vs. City of Margate, N.J.: 476 F.Supp. 1237 (1979) and City of Canton vs. Harris: 109 S.Ct. 1197 (1989) have set the standards in police training in that it must be relevant and realistic. Since the majority of OISs are sudden confrontations at close range, is aimed shooting relevant and realistic to what really happens in an OIS?
If officers are going to instinctively revert to a point-shooting stance, then it is up to us to train them in the proper fundamentals of a point shooting technique. It is not only the department's responsibility, it is its duty to give the officer out on the street the tools he or she needs to survive a lethal encounter.
When it comes to an OIS, point shooting is the best weapon an officer can have in his or her tactical arsenal. It will provide the extra edge he or she needs when forced to confront the element within our society that is willing to take a police officer's life. With practice and repetition comes proficiency. The more proficient an officer becomes in point shooting out on the range, the more proficient he or she will become in the real world of an OIS. After all, the first one to come up on target and place an effective shot into his or her opponent wins the fight. It's time we started training officers the way they fight-instinctively.
Officer Michael T. Rayburn has more than 22 years of law enforcement experience and is currently a 14-veteran of the Saratoga Springs (N.Y.) Police Department. He is also the lead instructor for Rayburn Law Enforcement Training and can be reached at (518) 885-8594.