With this issue of Force Science News (FSN), we introduce a new feature–the Readers’ Mail Room.


This is a dynamic forum where you can share your questions, comments and professional force-related experiences, with opportunities for feedback not only from researchers at the Force Science Research Center but from our thousands of readers worldwide as well. It’s a great vehicle for networking and exchanging valuable information.


So enjoy…and stay safe. We look forward to hearing from you!





In reporting Researcher Christopher Heim’s study of unintentional discharges [see FSN Transmission #3, 10/15/04], you state that “…33 male and 13 female officers of different ranks and years of service were sent into a room….” My question is this: of the 7 officers who failed to keep their finger off of the trigger prior to firing the weapon, what were their ages, how much time did they have in their jobs and how many times had they been on the range for training/qualifying? Also what were the genders of these 7?


I think that years of service and the amount of times the officers had participated in weapon training/qualifying may play a part in the study results.


Sgt. Charles DeFebbo


Atlantic County (NJ) Prosecutor’s Office


Dr. Bill Lewinski, executive director of the Force Science Research Center, responds:


It certainly seems likely that an officer’s experience and training and perhaps other factors will affect his or her inclination to inappropriately touch the trigger. In fact, FSRC is currently developing a very sophisticated research weapon that will allow us to expand on Heim’s research and explore these factors in more finite detail. We expect to start our project about mid-winter.


Although 7 officers in Heim’s study represents a significant percentage of the total, 7 is too small a number to break down further and reach any statistically valid conclusions. Once we have a larger pool to analyze, we should be able to produce meaningful results.


Regarding Heim’s findings overall, it is perhaps important to note that German police on average tend to have significantly more training than most American officers. So how Americans compare in terms of performance quality should be interesting and revealing.




Under stress we tend to revert back to our early learning experiences, our first programmed response. Most folks had toy guns in childhood and keeping the finger off the trigger was not taught or considered. When officers are first handed a weapon in the classroom, most will put their finger on the trigger because that is what they unknowingly learned during childhood.


We essentially have to reprogram officers in the academy, and throughout their career, to put their finger straight along the frame. Those with more training and confidence in their abilities tend to stay off the trigger until the appropriate time.


Referencing scan patterns [see FSN Transmission #4, 11/1/04], it looks as though you will be using firearms training simulators for your future testing, which would be a good start. However, it might be more interesting to do this testing in a force-on-force environment where the world is 3 dimensional and stress levels tend to be higher. Our personnel respond much different to force-on-force situations in our Tactical Village than any other training environment we can provide.


Sgt. Bret Draughn

Firearms Training Detail

Phoenix (AZ) P.D.


Dr. Bill Lewinski, FSRC’s executive director, responds:


I believe you are correct about one reason for slipping the finger inside the trigger guard. There are other possible reasons as well.


I have assigned one of our Technical Advisory Board members, Dr. Jonathan Page, a neuropsychologist, to work with Dr. Roger Enoka of the University of Colorado, to investigate the research literature on “clutching,” which may be a phenomenon in some unintentional discharges. It may be an instinctive reaction to fear that goes back even further than childhood. Perhaps there’s a genetic foundation for a hand-clutching reaction under stress and then a spinal reflex arc that is triggered on imbalance or exertion, with the end result an unwanted trigger pull. We will keep you advised in future issues of Force Science News.


As for your comments on scan pattern testing, you’re right: the ideal way to test them would be in real-world settings. Unfortunately even in “controlled” simulations too many unwitting, unpredictable and unavoidable changes take place during role-play scenarios for us to use them as a primary foundational tool for research. Thus we will start with simulator experiments and later move on to more dynamic testing as advances in methods for duplicating and measuring physical actions make that possible.




Regarding unintentional discharges, I think the type of gun involved may play a large role. If the federal agents mentioned in your report are carrying Glocks, the fact that one has to pull the trigger to disassemble these guns may be part of the cause in the number of unwanted discharges during nonenforcement activities.


I am very intrigued by your studies and look forward to your research continuing. I teach recruits at a local academy and constantly am looking for more information to ensure that our program benefits new officers on the street. I know your efforts will save many officers from wrongful convictions for just doing their job.


Lt. Craig Busche

Greenfield (WI) P.D.


Sgt. Craig Stapp, a firearms instructor with Tempe (AZ) PD and a member of the FSRC Technical Advisory Board, responds:


The issue of unintentional discharges has many more dimensions than just the type of firearm involved. It’s true that you must manipulate the trigger to disassemble the Glock, and some other pistols as well. This can be done safely if basic rules are followed.


My agency has a very specific procedure for cleaning the Glock, which must be strictly adhered to by everyone from pre-academy recruits to the chief.


About 90 per cent of our officers clean their sidearms in designated areas at our range that are equipped with “unloading tubes” or bullet traps. With finger off the trigger, an officer must first remove the magazine, secure it, unload the chamber and verify visually and physically that the magazine well and chamber are empty. The officer then cycles the slide several times while watching the ejection port to be sure the gun is absolutely unloaded.


The muzzle must be kept pointed into the unloading tube or trap while the trigger is pressed. The slide must be removed before removing the gun from the tube. Once slide and frame are separated, the officer then proceeds with cleaning.


If an officer cleans his weapon at home, he must keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction, that is at something that will stop a bullet without injury to persons or major damage to property if an unintentional discharge occurs during disassembly. Some officers use their body armor, a brick wall or some other impenetrable barrier as a backstop.


Anyone who violates these rules not only must be disciplined but also given documented training to prevent further safety violations.


An informal survey of agencies in our area that use Glocks as their primary duty pistol reveals that one department with more than 800 officers has had only 5 unintentional discharges involving Glocks in the last 10 years. Another with over 2,500 officers has had 5 in the last 6 years. Another with over 300 officers has had 3 in the last 10 years. Considering the number of times these officers handle, clean and train with the Glock, the unintentional discharge rate is very low.


Of course, even one “accident” is too many. Therefore safety and operational procedures must be constantly enforced and evaluated.




We have done some limited, nonscientific testing of various ready positions and reaction times and have found that an officer who is forced to make the intellectual decision to shoot based on visual observations can respond faster from the Sul or the low-ready positions than an officer who already has a sight picture with his gun up and on target.


What seems to happen is that an officer with his gun up and sighted tends to lower the weapon to confirm the visual threat he believes he has perceived and then come back up on target before shooting.


Consequently we have taken the position that the muzzle should remain depressed, off-target, until the decision has been made to shoot. This increases the officer’s field of vision and he is able to absorb more of what is going on around him, making it easier to interpret suspect actions and respond quicker. Also if there is an unintentional discharge with the muzzle depressed, the round should go into the ground and not into someone or something we are not justified in shooting.


Of course keeping the muzzle depressed until the decision has been made to shoot is only valid if it doesn’t put the officer at an unfair disadvantage. We do not have the time or expertise to scientifically test this. Can you help us with the answer?


Ofcr. Bob Maule

Firearms Instructor

Tacoma (WA) P.D. Range and Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission


The FSRC’s Dr. Bill Lewinski responds:


We have not researched the mechanics and speed of the Sul position and we have not specifically researched the double-direction motion of bringing the gun off target and then back up on target to shoot. However, our research does shed some light on this issue.


We have found that any bi-directional motion (such as down-off target, back up-on target) is always up to twice as time expensive as a simple uni-directional motion (such as just coming onto target from a tactical low-ready position).


But–the time involved can be significantly reduced…very likely cut in half with proper training and practice. Still, given equal training and practice, a uni-directional movement will inevitably be faster for the average officer. In other words, your training decision, based on what is known to date, makes sense.


We plan to explore the biomechanics of various ready positions more thoroughly next year and will specifically investigate the stances and movements you mention. We also want to study whether training can overcome the tendency to come off target to verify a threat.




Traumatic stress [see FSN Transmission #5, 11/11/04] is hardly ever covered in correctional training, yet correctional officers need this type of information even more because of the people they face every day. Our officers don’t usually carry any weapons other than their brain and deal with gangs, fights, cell entries, riots–all with people who always have some type of weapon. They also see more stabbings and assaults in their career than most police officers.


After facing an inmate with a weapon, all the CO is expected to do is fill out a report in most cases. After riots and life-and-death disturbances, most care is given to hostages, which it should be, BUT help is never offered to those who quelled the situation and might have had to shoot or injure staff or inmates.


I addressed this in talks after the last riot I was in as the captain in charge of the assault unit and was told not to get into that subject. I was also a trainer for our Correctional Academy for many years and they didn’t want much said about traumatic stress and how to deal with it, as it might scare the students. I hope the Force Science Research Center will not forget correctional staff concerns in this matter.


Jerry Elliott

Capt. (Ret.), Wisconsin Correctional System



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