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WHY IS THE SUSPECT SHOT
IN THE BACK?
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
The third and fourth motion studied involved the “furtive” threatening motions where the subject reaches toward the waistband – presumably for a weapon. In this third motion, the subjects were requested to place the weapon in their waistband and then, on their own initiative, pull and fire in a very close “combat tuck’ maneuver. Again, the timing started with the first frame in which movement occurred, and ended with the first frame recording the weapon discharge. This is a definite skill maneuver, and would get faster with practice, but the subjects were not allowed to practice. As is, the average time, from the start of the motion to discharge, was 23/100ths of a second, with the fastest time being 09/100ths of a second, or about three times faster than the average officer would be able to pull the trigger if he were to react to this movement. An officer caught in the open in a “Dodge City showdown,” (with even the average subject in this study) literally would not stand a chance if the subject has his hand at his waistband, an actual weapon in that waistband, the intent to shoot, and any accuracy at all with his weapon.
The fourth movement involved the same waistband position, but this time the subject was to pull the gun from the waistband, extend the arm fully and discharge the weapon. The average time for this motion was 26/100ths of a second, with the fastest being 09/100ths of a second. Again, this is three times faster than an officer who is already set with target acquisition and finger on trigger can react with a trigger pull. There was a very tight distribution on this motion and the vast majority of subjects were able to fire their weapons before the time the average officer would’ve reacted and fired theirs.
In a street situation involving the “furtive” move to the waistband, if the officer had a finger on the trigger and waited before firing until the average suspect initiated a movement pulling the weapon out of the waistband, the two bullets would pass each other in the air. If the suspect was as fast as some of the subjects in the study, the officer would not even be able to think of squeezing the trigger before the suspect would have fired his weapon. Further, if an officer were to wait to identify that the suspect actually did have a weapon, the fastest suspect would be able to discharge at least two rounds before the average officer could react with one. The implications for officer safety are profound.
The next series of movements involved suspects running away from an officer and then turning back in some fashion, firing at the officer and coming back into a full run position. In my previous research, I had looked at the time to complete the full motion of turning, pointing, firing and then returning to the running position. Suspects in the street may or may not “throw shots” back at an officer in this fashion. It is equally probable for the suspect to, while running, hold the weapon pointed at an officer and fire several times before he pulls back into a full forward running position. Therefore I needed to start the timing of the motion from the point at which the suspect would no longer be a threat to the officer. Also, it seemed more important to determine when the suspect’s back might be fully exposed to the officer, so the officer’s round would directly enter the back at an approximate 90-degree angle rather than the time in which the subject was again into a full running position. Subsequently in the next movements, (numbers 5, 6 and 7) the measurements begin when the subject’s back is directly exposed to the officer, so a bullet would enter at approximately a 90-degree angle.
The fifth movement was a recreation of a shooting scenario with a suspect running away from an officer. The weapon in his strong arm, pointing the weapon back on his strong side, toward the officer, firing at the officer and then coming back into a full forward running position. The subject in the study was instructed to run away from the “fictional officer,” point the gun back, pull the trigger and then bring the weapon back into a bent arm running position. All of this was to be done as quickly as possible. Because suspects in the street could shoot one or more rounds at an officer before turning to a full forward motion, the timing of the movement started after the subject pulled the trigger and then moved into the “drop off” position where the barrel of the weapon would no longer be pointed directly at the officer, and subsequently no longer be an immediate, direct threat. This “drop off” position was the start of the return of the arm to a running movement, and happened in different ways. Sometimes the subjects simply turned the barrel as they started to bring the weapon forward and into the arm position for running. Sometimes they dropped their hand by a few inches or twisted it away. The timing of the motion ended when the subject had returned to a “square back” running position. The “square back” position is one where the subject would be moving in a straight line directly away from the officer and in the same direction as the officer would be facing. The “square back” would be at an 80-90 degree shoulder angle to the lateral plane of the movement of the subject. In this study, in almost all subjects, the hip or waist was often “square back” to the “officer” for the full motion of rotating and shooting, and did not shift from this position, so the measurement for this study was done on only the shoulder axis. Even in the full 90 degree “square back” position almost all subjects had a slight forward lean to their upper body. The angle of forward lean was not measured in this study. All actions were completed and the measurements were done within 20 yards of the subject starting to run.
The usual time from the frame where the weapon was directly pointed back at the officer in “discharge” position to “drop off” was one frame or 03/100ths of a second. Subsequently there was very little difference in overall time from ‘weapon discharge” to “square back” and “drop off” to “square back.”
In this fifth movement or “strong arm back” position, the average time to go from the “drop off” position to “square back” position was 14/100ths of a second. The fastest time was 0/100ths of a second. In other words, in the fastest return, the subject had flexible shoulders and was able to extend the arm back without much upper body rotation. From this position, the mere act of changing the direction of the barrel seemed to release the pressure on the shoulder, and let him return to a full “square back” run position immediately. In general, regardless of how fast the subject was running, he was able to return from a “weapon discharge” position within half a stride or a little more. In some cases the subject’s back was so square to the “fictional officer” as they were shooting, that even if the officer was to discharge his weapon at the subject as the subject’s weapon was pointed at them, and continued to be trained at them for all intents and purposes, the bullet would still enter the subject’s back at very close to 90 degrees.