Please contact E. B. Davis at for information on guest blogs and interviews. Interviews for May: (5/4) Linda Norlander, (5/11) Connie Berry, (5/18) Mary Keliikoa, (5/22) Annette Dashofy, and (5/25) Rosalie Spielman.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Shoot? Don’t Shoot?

Last week I attended Writers' Police Academy sponsored, in part, by the Sisters in Crime. This year it was at a wonderful facility outside Appleton, Wisconsin. That’s less than a four-hour drive for us (right around the block in Yooper terms), so Jan and I both attended.

I was lucky enough to sign up for several special small-group classes. Crime Scene photography was excellent; it helped me understand how those folks actually work a scene using digital photography. I won a lottery and participated in a “Simunitions” exercise in which three of us attempted to extract an armed person for whom we had a warrant from a house. We were not sure if other people, including a baby, might still be in the house.

The class I want to discuss today is called MILO, an extremely realistic interactive training program.

For fifteen minutes two of us worked with an instructor and the MILO simulator. The instructor first provided a refresher on the basics of handgun control (both of us had experience shooting handguns). Next we discussed when it is appropriate for a police officer to fire his/her weapon: the key being that an officer should not shoot until feeling endangered.

The two of us took turns with the simulations. The first simulation had an angry man brandishing a knife. In scenario one he was (I think) thirty-one feet away. Was I endangered? No. I had plenty of time to shoot before he could run at me with the knife. When he did finally run, I shot. Because he kept moving, I kept shooting until the guy went down.

Lesson one: keep shooting until danger is removed.

I repeated the knife-wielding man scenarios with the guy at twenty-one feet and eleven feet. At eleven feet there is very little time between the man making a threatening move and the necessity of shooting. Very little time.

I managed those three scenarios successfully. The other student waited too long in the eleven-foot scene and was “killed.”

A little cop humor
We did several other scenarios. In all cases I correctly chose when to shoot. However, I did die in one scenario. I responded to a bank robbery by an armed man. He exited the bank, money in one hand, gun in the other. I made the correct decision of when to shoot, but then I made a rookie error. I developed tunnel vision, focusing on the downed gunman because he might not be dead and he still had the gun in his hand.

I missed seeing a car parked at the curb with the getaway driver. The screen went red when that person got off several shots before I located the problem and fired back.

Our last scenario involved both students. We were in a two-person patrol car and had made a traffic stop of an erratically-driven car. Out pops a guy pointing a gun at his head, threatening to blow his head off if we come nearer. Then he starts taunting us to shoot him. This was possibly a suicide-by-cop situation. We’re yelling at the guy to drop his gun and stay by his car. Eventually, he started moving toward us, still waving the gun more or less at his head.

Shoot? Don’t shoot?

He’s still coming toward us, waving the gun more or less at his head.

Shoot? Don’t shoot?

The waving gun is now pointed less frequently directly at his head, the gestures become loopier.

Shoot? Don’t shoot?

Crime scene photography
Both of us made the wrong decision. My partner never shot. Once the gunman reached the back bumper of his car (the line I had mentally drawn in the sand), I fired a shot into the dirt and when he kept coming, I shot his leg. According to the instructor, given the gunman was not following directions and was waving the gun around (and could easily change one of those loops into a shot at us), I had chosen the correct time to fire. However, I should have aimed for the center mass. Police officers do not shoot for extremities (or shoot the weapon out of the person’s hand). They are trained to focus on the chest through head area.

One thing the two of us didn’t do in that exercise, which many students do and which also happens a lot in real life is fire solely because the other person fires. It’s a tension-induced reflex. Combined with training to keep shooting until the opponent is no longer a threat, this reaction is often responsible for the massive number of bullets fired in some shootouts.

The exercise provided me with insight into police shootings I would never have gotten from television and printed news. Sometime it may even make it into a story.

~ Jim


Warren Bull said...

Very interesting, Jim. It sounds like training is worthwhile. I had a similar experience to shoot don't shoot when my local chapter of Sisters in Crime toured a police training facility. The situations were ambiguous and I was a lousy shot.

Gloria Alden said...

Interesting, Jim. I am pretty sure I would have been killed in every situation. I've only shot a gun once in my life - a shotgun when I was a teenager. My brother and cousins were target shooting on my grandparents' farm, and talked me into trying. Never again! It almost knocked me down, and I had a bruise on my shoulder for quite some time. However, I think the workshop you took would be an interesting experience.

KM Rockwood said...

That training exercise gives us more insight into the situations officers often confront. They have no way of knowing the intentions of someone with a gun or knife, other than it's probably not good.

When I hear someone say, "Why didn't they shoot his arm?" it shows little understanding of the difficulties of hitting what you're aiming at, especially in a tense situation. Always aim at the big target--the torso.

"Why did he shoot so many times?" With most officers using an automatic weapon, which continues to fire until the shooter releases the trigger or it runs out of ammunition, of course multiple shots will probably be fired. It's not like each shot takes a separate squeeze of the trigger.

"He just had a knife." Have those people ever seen the damage a knife can do?

We ask people (who are not particularly well paid in many cases) to go out and risk their lives to keep communities safe, and then second-guess their split-second decisions to neutralize risks.

Kait said...

Interesting Jim, I couldn't make it to WPA this year, but went last year. We had MEGGIT simulation which sounds similar to what you had in MILO. It definitely gives you an appreciation for he person wearing the badge. Looking forward to hearing more about WPA 2015!

Sarah Henning said...

Looks like a really cool experience, Jim!

Shari Randall said...

Sounds like you did well, Jim. I would have been red screened immediately! More people - and not just mystery writers - should see the training that police and military people do. I am in awe that there are people out there who are trained to confront bad guys and who - in most cases, I'm thinking of the young men on the Paris bound train - rely on that training to keep others safe.

Jim Jackson said...

Your comments are all spot on. It was interesting, exciting and a bit humbling to "walk" in a trainee's shoes for a bit.

~ Jim