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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 sixth movement was a recreation of a shooting scenario with the suspect running away from an officer with the weapon in his strong arm. The suspect then looked over his weak side shoulder, brought the weapon across the body, pointed it back toward the officer, over his weak side shoulder, discharged the weapon and pulled the weapon and hand back into a bent arm run position. The subjects were instructed to do this motion as quickly as possible. The timing started from the weapon “drop off” position and ended when the subject was square backed. The drop off position here was the turning away of the barrel from the direction of the officer – however that was accomplished. The average time to return from the “drop off” position to a full “square back” position was 09/100ths of a second. Again, the fastest was 0/100ths of a second. In some subjects the drop off of the weapon was all that was needed to return them to the position where if an officer was to hit them with a bullet at that point, the bullet would enter at an approximate 90 degree angle to the lateral plane.
The seventh movement was a recreation of a shooting scenario with the suspect running away from an officer, with the weapon in his strong arm. The suspect then looks over his weak side shoulder, brings the weapon across the body and under the arm/shoulder of the weak side. The suspect then points it back toward the officer, discharges the weapon and pulls the weapon and hand back into a bent arm run position. The subjects were instructed to do this as quickly as possible. The timing started from the weapon “drop off” position and ended when the subject was square backed. The drop off position here was the turning away of the barrel from the direction of the officer – however that was accomplished. The average time to return from the “drop off” position to a full “square back” position was 13/100ths of a second. The fastest was 0/100ths of a second. Again, in some subjects, the drop off of the weapon was all that was needed to return them to the position where, if an officer was to hit them with a bullet at that point, the bullet would enter at an approximate 90 degree angle to the lateral plane.
Regardless of how the weapon was pointed back at the “fictional” officer as the subject ran away, it was apparent in most subjects that almost no hip rotation and little shoulder or upper body rotation was used to point the weapon back at the officer and shoot. The consequence of this is that any officer who shoots a subject in this position – either when the weapon is pointed at them or in immediate reaction to that pointing, will hit the subject in the back at very close to a direct 90 entry from the lateral plane of the back. This is a very different angle of entry than the average, uninformed civilian, law enforcement officer or officer or the court would expect.
The eighth movement is the 90-degree turn. In this study the subjects were positioned so they were in front of the camera and facing at a 90-degree angle to the officer/camera, with a weapon in their strong hand and positioned down by their thigh. They were instructed to do the 90-degree turn, and during this turn to actually point the weapon at the officer/camera and pull the trigger. Again, we were not studying the biomechanics of the motion, but simply beginning to establish the time parameters of the motion. It is noteworthy that, in this as well as in all the other motions studied; each person had his own unique way of doing the general movement. Some subjects raised the weapon toward the camera/officer pulled the trigger and turned; others dropped or “charged” their body then started to turn and raise the weapon, all in one motion; others started to turn first and then raised the weapon. Some subjects turned by almost spinning in place and then running away. Others ran and turned and took more than 10 yards to reach the shoulder “square back” position. The timing of the motion started with first frame the weapon began to move as the subject started to bring it into motion from beside the thigh. The timing stopped when the subject was within 10 degrees of a full square back position facing away from the officer/camera.
In my previous study, the subjects were measured on simply turning. This study had some “street encounter” emphasis in that the subjects had a gun in hand and most accidentally swung or in some way raised the weapon at the officer/camera as they turned. This reflected a street encounter in which the suspect did not intentionally point the weapon at the officer and discharge it, but did threaten the officer. There have been an undocumented number of street encounters like this where the suspect was armed, facing or walking at a right angel to the officer, and then the suspect initiates or continues his motion into a 90 degree turning movement where they are subsequently facing or moving directly away from the officer. The suspects in these encounters invariably swing the weapon as part of the turning movement. The swing then results in the weapon, at some point, being pointed in or beginning to be pointed in the direction of the officer. The suspect never does discharge the weapon, but by the time the officer has reacted, to believing the weapon is going to be pointed and shot, the suspect has turned and is shot in the back. In my previous study, the average time for the subject to turn 90 degrees was 32/100ths of a second with the fastest being 18/100ths of second.
Because of the more complicated and extensive motions the subjects went through in this study, the time for the 90 degree turn was relatively much greater than in previous studies but more accurately represents a more dynamic, realistic street encounter, where the suspect actually shoots at the officer. The average time for this motion in this study was 90/100ths of a second, with the fasted being 50/100ths of a second.
A second set of times was taken for each movement to assist in more clearly understanding the 90-degree turn and how it might interface with the threat to the officer and the officer’s reaction time. The average time, from start of the motions to discharge and “weapon drop off,” was 53/100ths of a second. The average time from weapon “drop off” to the full square back position was 37/100ths of a second.
The ninth movement is the 180-degree turn, and is similar to the 90-degree movement studied previously, in that it more accurately reflected a street encounter where the suspect engages in a more dynamic turn and actually discharges a weapon at the officer as they are turning. In this study, the subject was instructed to start by facing directly at the camera/officer with the weapon in a concealed, bootleg position beside and behind the strong side thigh, then to do the turn and actually point the weapon at the officer/camera and pull the trigger. As in the 90-degree study, the motion was very dynamic, varied among subjects, and sometimes covered quite a distance before the subject achieved a full “square back” position.
In my previous study with just the pure motion of the 180-degree rotation, and with subject (weapon in hand), but only inadvertently pointing it at the officer, the time was 54/100ths of a second, with the fastest being 37/100ths of a second. In this study, the subject directly pointed the weapon at the officer and pulled the trigger while turning. The average time for this more dynamic motion was 89/100ths of a second, with the fastest being 50/100ths of a second. From the start of the motion to drop off, the average time was 48/100ths of second. The fastest time was 40/100ths of a second. From “drop off” to square back position the average time was 42/100ths of second. The fastest time was 10/100ths of a second.