Why not shoot someone in the leg?
“And the answer is always, ‘Well, have you eliminated the threat if you shoot someone in the leg or the arm?’” said [former officer Randy] Shrewsberry, who is now the executive director of the California-based Institute for Criminal Justice Training Reform. “‘Do they still have the ability to shoot you?’”
Cadets throughout the nation learn to aim for a person’s torso above the waist, known as one’s center-mass. It’s the biggest part of the body and can’t be moved as quickly out of an officer’s line of fire, like an arm or a leg could. It’s also where humans carry most of their vital organs. So, the logic goes, if officers perceive an imminent threat, their best chance of eliminating that threat quickly is to shoot someone there.
[Deputy Chief Scott] Mourtgos, with Salt Lake City police, said you also can’t expect an officer in a dynamic and stressful situation to consistently hit a small, and sometimes moving, target on a person’s body.
Then, he said, you have to consider a general principle all officers are taught: action is faster than reaction.
If an officer tried to, for instance, shoot a knife out of someone’s hand, Mourtgos said that person could move their hand faster than an officer could perceive it and reassess their aim. If an officer misses, the threat he or she sought to eliminate remains — and the misplaced bullet could hit someone in the background.
And, he said, even when you shoot someone in a part of the body with fewer vital organs, there’s still a possibility the person bleeds to death.
“I’ve seen people survive being shot in the head with a bullet … I’ve seen people die from being shot in the leg and arm,” Mourtgos said. “There is no good place to shoot a human being.”
Maj. Scott Stephenson, Utah POST director, said in a written statement that he agreed a shoot-to-incapacitate policy would result in more suspects surviving — “because officers will frequently miss their intended target.”
But the tradeoff, he said, is “this could jeopardize innocent bystanders at a higher rate.”
And he said [Enoch Police Officer Jeremy] Dunn’s two shootings “are not enough evidence that this could be practical.”
— Paighten Harkins in Shooting Not to Kill. This Utah Case Fuels a Debate That Frustrates Police.