Force Science News #39:

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

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 and a member of FSRC's National Advisory Board, for tipping us to Paterson's bill.]




Special individuals capable of impartially resolving disputes and using force to maintain order when necessary help keep monkey communities from collapsing in chaos, just as LEOs do in human society, researchers are discovering.


“It seems clear that among more highly developed animals, Nature considers policing to be an absolutely essential element in protecting a given society’s well being,” observes Dr. Bill Lewinski, executive director of the Force Science Research Center at Minnesota State University-Mankato.


The monkey findings come from a team of scientists headed by Dr. Jessica Flack of the Santa Fe Institute, a private, not-for-profit research organization based in New Mexico. Her group experimented with 84 Asian monkeys called pigtailed macaques at a research facility in Georgia.


Among the monkeys, a small coterie of high-ranking individuals, 3 males and 1 female, appeared to be acting essentially as the group’s police. Unlike dominant (alpha) members of many animal groups, these 4 not only received deference from other monkeys and defended their own interests but also intervened “to break up conflicts between lower-ranking individuals in an apparently disinterested way.”


This included imposing themselves between combatants to stop fights and threatening all disputants simultaneously, without showing partiality.


To study the value of such “policing,” Flack’s group removed 3 of the cops for 10 hours on a randomly chosen day once every 2 weeks. Result: the social network that held the monkey troop together quickly broke down.


The monkeys spent less time peacefully interacting by grooming, sitting together, and playing with each other and divided instead into small, disruptive cliques. Significantly, the number of aggressive incidents increased.


Flack concludes that thanks to the policing role, individual monkeys can socialize widely with little risk and a larger troop can stay together, since the “cops” will intervene if things start to get out of hand. “Through their stabilizing presence and active peacekeeping, they contribute to a more cooperative society,” she says.


She believes that the police monkeys themselves derive some benefit from helping sustain a larger community, including (for the males) access to more females.


In drawing human comparisons, let’s not even go there!


[Thanks to Wayne Schmidt, executive director of Americans for Effective Law Enforcement, for alerting us to this study. A synopsis of Flack's research is available in The Economist magazine for 1/26/06. The full report is available for a fee in the journal Nature at:]




A comment by a plaintiff’s expert witness during the trial of a civil suit against a Rhode Island police department has led a private law enforcement training organization to conduct an informative survey regarding off-duty policies and practices.


The witness was testifying in a case in which an armed off-duty officer intervened in an altercation, was mistaken for a threatening suspect by responding uniformed officers and was shot dead by members of his own department.


The witness testified that departmental policies requiring officers to be “always armed and always on duty” are “antiquated” and are no longer in force in major agencies.


A poll subsequently conducted by the Legal & Liability Risk Management Institute, a division of the Public Agency Training Council based in Indianapolis, suggests that might not actually be the case.


In the Institute’s survey of more than 4,100 LEOs, 28 per cent said that their agency has a policy requiring officers to carry a firearm while off-duty. Policy or not, 73 per cent of respondents said officers on their department do carry when not working.


Half the officers said their agency has a policy requiring officers to take action to protect life or property while off-duty. An emphatic 93 per cent said their agency would expect them to intervene in certain violent situations they observed while off-duty (the assault of an elderly woman was cited as an example in the survey).


However, 65 per cent of the officers polled said their agency does not conduct specific training on off-duty use of force and 74 per cent said they receive no training on any aspect of off-duty confrontations.


Although on-duty and off-duty encounters can be profoundly different, the Institute concludes that the majority of LE agencies throughout the US are not training their personnel to deal successfully with these potentially dangerous confrontations.


FSRC’s executive director, Dr. Bill Lewinski, agrees. “Officers need to have special training about off-duty use-of-force issues, and especially about their limitations in responding to violent situations when they are out of uniform.


“When off-duty encounters go bad, the biggest issue tends to be that the intervening off-duty officer tends to feel that he or she is part of the police team and will be perceived as such by responding officers, while the officers arriving at the scene most likely won’t know who the off-duty officer is and can easily mistake him for an armed offender.


“If you chose to intervene in a situation off-duty with your gun drawn, do not take for granted that any uniformed officer is going to automatically interpret that you are from the law enforcement community. The single most important recommendation is to comply with all requests from uniformed personnel, regardless of how unreasonable they may seem. You want to do everything you can to calm the situation so that who’s who can be properly sorted out.”


[Thanks to Captain Mike Williams of the Chattanooga (TN) PD for acquainting us with the Legal & Liability Risk Management Institute survey. The full survey, including a sample off-duty action policy and a debrief on the fatal off-duty shooting in Rhode Island, can be accessed at]




The latest study of officers’ reactions during and after shootings has yielded some upbeat conclusions–and some surprises.


The full report, “Police Responses to Officer-Involved Shootings,” is available in both Word and pdf formats at:


Under a federal grant, Klinger used questionnaires and personal interviews to explore the emotional, psychological and physical reactions of 80 officers and sheriff’s deputies who were involved in 113 confrontations in which they shot someone.


Immediately prior to or upon firing, 95 per cent said they experienced 1 or more of the perceptual phenomena that by now are commonly documented, such as tunnel vision, heightened visual detail, auditory blunting, time distortions and so on. Many also found their post-shooting recollection of the events to be “imperfect.” In extreme cases, officers could not recall even firing their guns.


Contrary to what some had expected from their training, however, few officers in the study suffered any long-lasting negative effects from a shooting.


Even in the short term, a sizeable percentage experienced no or only one negative reaction during the first day and week after the shooting. At 3 months, most officers reported no lingering negative physical or mental reactions. Past that point only 3 specific adverse reactions persisted in more than 10 per cent of those surveyed: trouble sleeping (11 per cent), fear of legal or administrative problems (11 per cent), and recurrent thoughts (37 per cent). 14 per cent reported unspecified “other” thoughts or feelings.


In contrast, nearly 30 per cent of officers felt “elation” after a shooting, which included “joy at being alive, residual excitement after a life-threatening situation, and satisfaction or pride in proving their ability to use deadly force appropriately.” This compares with only 12 per cent who felt any “guilt.”


During Klinger’s interviews, several officers said they thought something “might be wrong with them” because they did not experience the long-term disruptive symptoms (including severe guilt and depression) that “training [had] taught them to expect.” Indeed, some felt that through the power of suggestion conveyed by training that “their reactions were more severe than they would have been otherwise.”


Many officers who underwent mandatory post-shooting counseling reported that the experience was not positive for them, although 3 officers who did suffer long-term depression found counseling to be helpful.


Most officers who shared the negative impression of counseling “said they believed their department required counseling to shield itself from legal liability, not to help the officers themselves,” according to a synopsis of Klinger’s findings published in the January ['06] issue of NIJ Journal, from the National Institute of Justice. “They stated that they did not talk frankly to the counselors because they did not trust them” or thought they were incompetent. Several admitted to lying to counselors about their reactions.


“This contrasts with officers’ willingness to discuss the shooting with fellow officers who had also been involved in shootings and suggests that peer counseling may be more helpful to these officers than mandatory critical incident debriefings,” the summary states.


“[O]fficers who felt a lack of support from their colleagues and supervisors” or who believed that “aspects of the investigation into the shooting were unfair or unprofessional reported more severe and longer-lasting negative reactions following the shooting, particularly after 3 months.”


Commenting on the study, Dr. Bill Lewinski, head of the Force Science Research Center told Force Science News:


“Training on critical incident responses should avoid teaching that officers WILL experience any particular symptoms during or after a shooting or other potentially traumatic event. They MAY experience adverse reactions–or they may not. Either way is psychologically ‘normal.’”


As to officers’ negative reactions to counseling, the primary problem, Lewinski suspects, is inappropriate, inexperienced counselors.


“Departments need to make more of an effort to hire the right kind of counseling professionals, who can do the job well and not inflict harm,” Lewinski says. “A counselor who doesn’t understand cops and the nitty-gritty of street encounters won’t be trusted.


“But properly trained, empathetic and realistic counselors can build rapport, readily identify those officers who do need therapeutic assistance and also be helpful in getting an officer to move forward in a positive way after a shooting, even if the officer is not suffering any serious post-event symptoms.”


[Thanks to Master Police Officer Tom Moy with University of Delaware DPS for forwarding word of the NIJ's final report on this study.]




You know it in your heart, so to speak. Scientists have confirmed it. Now they’re confirming it again: Job stress of the kind you may experience in police work can play hell with your cardiovascular health.


But there may be a way for you to beat the odds.


British researchers who tracked more than 10,300 civil servants (predominately males, aged 35-55) over a 14-year period found that those with chronic work stress were twice as likely to develop “metabolic syndrome.” This syndrome, associated with heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular problems and also linked to Type 2 diabetes, encompasses such risk factors as obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.


“There is a stepwise increase in the odds of the metabolic syndrome with increasing levels of exposure to work stress,” says Tarani Chandola, a senior lecturer in public health at University College London, who led the research team.


He points out that people who feel stressed at work tend to smoke, drink too much and not exercise enough, as well as to develop bad health habits such as eating a poor diet with too few fruits and vegetables.


The risk of heart disease tends to drop among people who feel they are treated fairly at work and who feel they have control over their job, Chandola says.


Considering that stress is not likely to diminish much in your line of work, you can perhaps find hope in a couple of other studies. Researchers at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago confirmed that metabolic syndrome is associated with an exceptionally high death risk.


But after studying nearly 6,000 subjects over 9 years they found that improving your fitness can make a difference. “Fitness has a protective effect, likely because it reduces other risk factors, lowers heart rate and conditions the heart to respond to stress,” says Dr. Martha Gulati, the lead researcher. “The more fit you are, the less you will feel the impact of metabolic syndrome.”


Indeed, a combination of weight loss and exercise can cut the incidence of metabolic syndrome by 41 per cent over 3 years.


A study recently reported from UCLA showed that after just 3 weeks of walking 45-60 minutes a day on a treadmill and eating a high-fiber, low-fat diet (with no limit to total calories), male subjects, on average, showed a 50 per cent reversal of the individual factors responsible for metabolic syndrome.


“Metabolic syndrome can be reversed solely through lifestyle changes,” explains Dr. Christian Roberts, a physiologist who led the study.


The full report of the British study was printed in the 1/21/06 issue of the British Medical Journal and can be found online at:


The other studies are reported in the March ['06] issue of LifeTimes, published by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois. See the article “Metabolic syndrome: More warning signs” on pgs. 6-7.



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Written by Force Science Institute

February 28th, 2006 at 4:27 pm

© 2017 Force Science Institute Ltd.