“[S]hooting to incapacitate” will likely lead to more shootings, not fewer. If officers are taught that their gun is now a less-than-lethal option, they could use that gun more and simply say, “I only shot him in the leg.” The imprecision caused by the reality on the street — when adrenaline is pumping, sirens are blaring and hearts are racing — would surely cause police firing rounds at appendages to miss and strike innocent bystanders.
Shooting to wound, rather than to neutralize a threat, would also make it more “OK” for officers to use their guns in situations that don’t warrant it. Importantly, their failure to neutralize a deadly threat would mean more officers dying at the hands of violent subjects who survive their wounds and continue to attack.
As well-intentioned as “shoot to incapacitate” might be, it is a distraction from identifying and addressing the steps needed to reduce the number of shootings by police. We should be recruiting and training officer candidates who have the capacity to de-escalate potentially violent encounters through well-proven verbal techniques.
We should be vetting police applicants to find those who are less likely to default to violence, racially driven biases and extremist ideologies. And we must hire officers who look more like, and better understand, the communities they are assigned to protect. Reducing the number of fatal police shootings is a worthy goal, but “shoot to incapacitate” misses the mark.