Are police ‘trigger happy’?

It's not just target practice for police.

It’s not just target practice for police.

Queensland has had three fatal shootings by police in the last week. Scary figures. Cue the media headlines, distraught family members and training reviews.

So, are police trigger happy? No. Resoundingly NO. Let me explain.

Imagine the most stressful situation you’ve ever been in. Your heart is pounding so loudly that it nearly drowns out all the other sounds around you. Time feels like it has been sped up, except for you, you feel like the air is as thick as custard, weighing you down and making you move in slow motion. You gulp at the air, you can’t afford to pass out. Then you need to make a decision. NOW. NOW. NOW.

Chances are, it won’t be a well-considered thoughtful decision. It will be a gut reaction, an instinct. It will most likely be based on your training, movements that have been repeated often enough that NOW when your brain is not capable of conscious reasoning, this training will kick in and hopefully save your life. Possibly at the cost of someone else’s but that is the nature of the job. Police are trained to draw their guns for certain situations. If someone has the potential to kill or inflict grievous bodily harm on you, shoot them. Protect yourself. Stop the threat. Protect others. Don’t believe a person with a knife can’t kill you with one strike.

It takes about 1.5 to 2 seconds for a police officer to draw their gun and fire. That doesn’t sound like much, but a person can run about seven metres in that time. The action of the offender will always be faster than the officer’s reaction – the officer has to see the movement, choose a course of action, and put that course of action into motion, such as removing their weapon from its holster, and firing. So applying this theory, if a threat is closer than seven metres to them, forget about trying to shoot. Start running backwards to buy some time, or get ready to fight. Police are taught all of this, and it is all whirling around your brain, along with the stresses of the situation itself.

A police officer who is forced into that corner and does shoot someone then has their own crisis to deal with. Firstly, they’ve shot someone. They’ve killed a person. That have taken someone else’s life. Often the deceased’s family or friends may have witnessed the shooting. Imagine for a minute this tsunami of grief, anger and confusion crashing over the top of them, while they themselves are trying to come to terms with what has just happened. Police are not psychopaths (psychometric testing precludes them). This directly affects them too. It may horrify, disturb, and shock them – the same normal human reactions as anyone else involved. Then the bosses start to swarm. Whichever police officer was involved is removed, interviewed, photographed, swabbed and bombarded with questions. If the answers are wrong, then they may find themselves on trial. The whole experience can be and often is career ending.

Always, the cry goes up – why didn’t the police TASER the person instead of shooting them? Police are not taught to draw their TASER in most situations involving weapons because of the risk it involves. If one of the probes misses, they’re stuffed. If one of the probes does not ‘stick’ (hits a zipper or a doesn’t pierce a thick coat), they’re stuffed. They don’t have a second shot. Reloading takes 2 or 3 seconds. The aggressor will be on top of them and they’ll be fighting for your life. Yes, tasering a person may save their life, but it might cost the police officer theirs.

A high proportion of people shot by police are suffering from mental illness. It’s tragic but not something police can control. The person may have reached crisis point for reasons unknown to the attending police. They might not have followed through – no one will know. They were in the grips of psychosis and didn’t mean it. They’re misunderstood. They wouldn’t hurt a fly. You hear all these things in the aftermath.

Police just can’t afford the speculation. They can’t take that chance. Because police want to go home at the end of the shift. Because police have their families waiting at home. Because police are doing their jobs.

You pull a knife on a cop – you’re going to get shot. End of story. When the offenders can grasp that, that’s when these shootings will end.

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8 thoughts on “Are police ‘trigger happy’?

  1. This is very interesting to read from your point of view. Can you explain to me why a person has to always been shot in the chest? Or is that how police are trained? Could they aim for wounding shots in the legs etc? Of course if the offender is within arms reach I can see why this wouldn’t be advisable but say if an offender is a few metres away with a knife, is there any time when you can shot for thigh instead of a chest? Or am I being naive. I do feel a huge amount of respect for the police, it’s not a job I could do.

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    • Police are trained to shoot at the biggest body mass which is the chest. This is because this is the most likely way you will actually stop the person. Because if you get to the point of drawing your gun, you are in fear of your life. You need to be a cool and accurate shooter to be confident enough to aim for a smaller moving target like a leg, especially through the adrenaline and stress involved. A wound to a leg or shoulder may not stop someone high on drugs. If police are not successful in stopping an aggressor and are killed, then who will stop them? With all of these sorts of factors taken into account, police are trained to aim for the chest. Thanks for your comments and questions, I want to try and explain these things a little.

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  2. I think many people miss the fact that police spend a great deal of time on people suffering mental illness purely because the mental health system is lacking. They might spend hours on looking for a person or talking them off a ledge, so to speak, only to have hospitals release them soon after admission. The fact that police shootings often involve the mentally ill should be seen as an indictment on the mental health system rather than on the police force. I don’t think we have trigger happy police here- you’ve only to look at American stats to see what that’s like, especially in the wake of Ferguson.

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    • Thank you – I completely agree with you! Often police have their first contact with a person after they’ve reached crisis point and it ends violently, which is sad for everyone involved. Police in the US have to assume everyone is armed with a gun, I think. Thank goodness Australia has such strict gun laws.

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