Finally, Hard Data on How Fast the Suspect Can Be In 11 Different Shooting Scenarios


By Bill Lewinski, Ph.D.

The Police Marksman November/December 2000 pgs. 20-28


We have always known that generally action beats reaction.  And, we’ve been able to demonstrate this in a variety of civilian and law enforcement situations.  Since the invention of the shot timer, we’ve known how quickly officers can react in shooting situations.  Now, for the first time, we have accurate, sophisticated measurements on how quickly the suspect in the street can actually do what they do in 11 different kinds of shooting scenarios.  Some of you may find the results depressing, for this research proves that in the street, action really does beat reaction.  For others, it will provide a clear explanation for problems, such as why so many suspects get shot in the back.  Readers should find the results of this study truly amazing – the implications for law enforcement training are profound.


In a previous article in The Police Marksman, (September/October, 1999) Dave Grossi and I present my research data on three movements subjects have done in officer-involved shootings.  In this current research those movements have been modified to make them more consistent with some types of street shooting situations.  This research also measures the time for suspect movement in 9 other street shooting situations.


It’s important for readers to remember that the average officer, with his finger on the trigger, and being psychologically set, is able to “react” to a shot timer and pull the trigger of his weapon in about a quarter to a third of a second.  I’m currently working on research on this topic with an entire police department, and the preliminary data indicates it is closer to a third of a second or even longer for most officers to react (at least with that department).  Some officers are quicker and others are slower.  Keep this “average” reaction time in mind as you read about the different motions studied, and learn just how fast the suspects’ action can be.


The purpose of both the current and previous research was not to replicate any specific shooting situation, for this would be functionally impossible.  It was not the intent to come up with measurements that could represent all population samples, for instance from the young to old and the fit to unfit.  Instead, the approach was to begin to come to an understanding of some of the time parameters of the specific motions studied, so that more intelligent conversions can be conducted regarding officer shooting situations by tactical instructors, internal affairs or shooting review boards, attorneys and judges.  This is not a study on the biomechanics of shooting.  For instance, in the combat tuck shooting motion, the concern was only with the time of the motion.  The timer started when the subject started his motion, and ended when the camera recorded the discharge of flame from the barrel.  Whether the subject pulled from the elbow or shoulder was not relevant to this study, or whether he rolled the weapon over his belt and discharged it, or pulled it high and then dropped it low.  I was simply concerned with beginning to define the time parameters so the law enforcement community can now know how fast these motions really can be.


The population for the study was 25 subjects who, for the most part, were undergraduate majors in the Law Enforcement Program at Minnesota State University, Mankato.  Most of the subjects had not received firearms training or ever handled a firearm.  All of the motions in the study were self-initiated, and therefore were “action” motions to which an officer would presumably be “reacting.”  The weapon used in the study was a Smith and Wesson .22 caliber revolver, armed with black powder blanks.


Each subject did five repetitions of each motion.  The motions were recorded on a Canon GL1 digital video camera in the frame mode.  The speed of the camera was 30 frames per second.  The camera and motions were cross-matched with a digital timer that was accurate to 1/1,000th of a second.  The error factor in the timing is a plus or minus 03/100ths of a second for each of the motions studied.


A more extensive statistical analysis than is present in this article is available.  However, the most important data for officers to know is the average time, and specifically the fastest time in which these motions can be done.  In an actual street encounter, an officer will never know whether he is facing the fastest, slowest or just the average person.  The only way an officer can ensure his survival is to prepare for, and react as if he’s facing the fastest person out there.  All of the motions studied here have come from actual officer-involved shootings, and reflect the real –life threats or circumstances.


The first motion studied simulated a vehicle stop where the suspect has a weapon hidden beside the right thigh/next to the console, and shoots at the officer as he approaches the driver’s side doorpost.  The subjects were instructed to hide the gun by their right thigh.  Then, on their own initiative, to move the weapon from the right thigh position, across the body, point it slightly over and to the rear of the left shoulder and discharge the weapon.  They were instructed to do this as quickly as possible.  The average time from start to discharge was 25/100ths of a second.  The fastest time for this motions, and there were several subjects, who were close to this, is 15/100ths of a second, or almost twice as fast as an average officer can pull the trigger on his weapon, if he is set with his finger on the trigger and ready to fire.  If in this scenario, the “reactive” officer has his weapon drawn and in the “bootleg” position, he doesn’t stand a chance to react and return fire before at least one, and more likely three or more rounds are fired in his direction.

The Second motion studied was another automobile simulation, where the suspect is in the front passenger’s seat and has reached across his body to the console position with his right hand.  The suspect then pulls the weapon from beside the left thigh/console position, swings the barrel of his weapon across his body and back, so it is pointed to the rear of his right shoulder.   He then discharges the weapon toward the passenger’s side doorpost.  This simulates a shooting on a passenger side approach, by a suspect who has a weapon hidden near the console.  The Average time for this motion was 26/100ths of a second, with the fastest time being 09/100ths of a second.  This is three times faster than the average officer (who is set to fire) can pull the trigger.