Are Shoot-To-Wound Laws The Next Activist Crusade?

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A New York state senator has introduced legislation that he says would force police officers using deadly force to try to shoot violent suspects in the arms or legs to stop them.

His proposed law also requires that officers stop firing at an attacker as soon as a threat is neutralized, or face felony charges of second-degree manslaughter.

In an explanatory memorandum accompanying his shoot-to-wound bill, Sen. David Paterson, a Democrat and anti-capital punishment advocate from Harlem, states: “There is no justification for terminating another’s life when a less extreme measure may accomplish the same objective.”

Is mandatory shooting to wound going to be the next “cause” taken up by civil rights activists in other states as well?

Paterson, the state senate’s minority leader, says he proposed the legislation in response to the acquittal of 4 NYPD officers charged criminally in the 1999 shooting death of Amadou Diallo. Diallo was gunned down in a fusillade of 41 rounds. Nineteen bullets struck Diallo when he was challenged by police in the high-crime Bronx area and reached for what officers thought was a weapon but turned out to be his wallet.

Shooting just to wound a suspect as an initial response to perceived threats would “safeguard the public,” Paterson says.

His bill, which is co-sponsored by 6 other senators, requires that officers use deadly force “with the intent to stop, rather than kill,” a subject who is believed to be “using unlawful force.” The officer should use “only the minimum amount of force necessary” to stop the suspect’s flight or resistance, the bill specifies.

In his supportive memorandum, Peterson explains that “an officer would have to try to shoot a suspect in the arm or the leg….Further, the number of times an officer shoots a person should not exceed the minimal number necessary to stop the person. If one shot accomplishes the purpose, it is neither necessary or appropriate for an officer to empty his barrel. The bill is intended to limit the use of force to the minimal amount needed.”

Paterson has tried before–unsuccessfully–to get such legislation enacted. He’s currently running for lieutenant governor on a ticket with gubernatorial candidate Eliot Spitzer, NY’s attorney general, who is said not to favor the proposed legislation.

Neither do NY-based police associations, to put it mildly. Outraged police spokesmen described Paterson’s bill variously as “lunacy,” “very ill-conceived” and dangerous to the lives of officers and innocent civilians.

Dr. Bill Lewinski, executive director of the Force Science Research Center at Minnesota State University-Mankato, concurs. “Senator Paterson does not understand any of the issues of performance psychology and performance skill,” he says bluntly. “He apparently has been trained by TV to think that officers have lots of time and are able to do amazing things when they are confronted with life-threatening dangers.

“In reality, most deadly encounters unfold very rapidly and very dramatically. Shooting to wound is rarely an option. Given the training most officers have, they are lucky to put bullets into center mass without trying to hit limbs that can be moved faster and more radically that larger parts of the body. Paterson’s proposal is almost beyond commentary.”

Stay tuned. In a forthcoming transmission Force Science News will report a scientific and legal analysis of Paterson’s concepts from the Force Science Research Center.

Paterson, incidentally, can be contacted through the following Web site:


[Thanks to Gary Klugiewicz, a defensive tactics consultant to PoliceOne.com and a member of FSRC’s National Advisory Board, for tipping us to Paterson’s bill.]

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