Police Officer Reaction Time to Start and Stop Shooting: The Influence of Decision-Making and Pattern Recognition

Law Enforcement Executive Forum

The Law Enforcement Executive Forum

Authors: William J. Lewinski, William B. Hudson, Jennifer L. Dysterheftt

During firearms instruction and training, law enforcement officers most often shoot one round at a time in response to an auditory signal, while in a controlled and relatively, relaxed setting (Adams, McTernan, & Remsberg, 2009). Conversely, when officers are in a critical, high stress situation with a threatening suspect, they are encouraged to shoot as many rounds as necessary, as quickly as possible, and to continue until the threat stops (Adams et al., 2009; Squires & Kennison, 2010). This type of shooting stems from previous research and experience in the policing field as, oftentimes, unlike common portrayal in movies, threatening suspects are not stopped with only one round fired by officers. This is supported by medical research as it has been found that 64% of gunshot victims with wounds to the chest and abdomen and 36% of those with wounds to the head and neck can survive more than five minutes, some even able to perform strenuous activity and to continue to physically fight (Adams et al., 2009; Levy & Rao, 1988; Newgard, 1992; Spitz, Petty, & Fisher, 1961). These unexpected medical responses occurred in the infamous FBI Miami Shootout in which two suspects who were shot in critical locations, including the spine, lung, and head, were able to continue fighting, killing two FBI agents and wound- ing six more (Federal Bureau of Investigation [FBI], 1986) Thus, for the safety of officers and others during dangerous encounters, officers are encouraged to use a continuous and rapid shooting technique until the threat is completely controlled (Adams et al., 2009).

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