Aw, damn…I had hoped that with all the public scrutiny, we’d have more official input on this by now. We don’t, but I promised I’d talk about it, so…
First, don’t assume that because all the details aren’t a matter of public record yet, there’s something to hide. In the community where I live, there was an officer-involved shooting a few days ago. It’s being investigated at the state level, and it has been announced that it might be three months before there’s an official report. Welcome to the Planet Earth: some complicated things take time to sort out.
A disgruntled person with something wrong inside his head shoots and kills a former boss he blames for his failure. The nearest local cops are told that this just happened. They approach the guy. He turns on them with a .45, and they draw their 9mm pistols and light him up, quickly putting him down. It turns out after the shooting that nine innocent bystanders have been hit by – “reportedly,” so far – police bullets or fragments thereof.
We have at least a security-cam record of that shooting. Look at it carefully. Bad guy pulls gun out of attaché case and turns with it, up and ready to shoot, toward the officers. For each New York cop, there’s a moment of OODA: the reaction cycle famed fighter pilot John Boyd quantified as Observe, Orient, Decide, and finally, Act. Each moves to avoid the gunfire of what they know to be a murder suspect, one toward hard cover and the other, caught in the open, away from the predictable line of the gunman’s pistol. Each is firing, the cop with cover taking a two-handed “stand and deliver” posture, the one without cover firing one-handed as he moves “off the X.” In moments, the perpetrator—who has also been moving – crumples to the ground.
In watching the public’s reaction, I’m seeing a lot of people – including many who should know better – excoriate the cops because innocents were apparently hit by their gunfire. “They shouldn’t have fired with bystanders behind the bad guy!” “They missed shots in close? It must be incompetence or bad training!”
I beg to differ.
After 40 years in police training, 19 of them as chair of the firearms committee of the American Society of Law Enforcement Trainers, I can tell you that as much as we train, from marksmanship on “the square range” to the gunfight simulation of Simunitions™ roleplay, there is nothing in the training environment that equals the heart-pounding danger of a known murderer pointing a .45 automatic at you. The situation the video shows is not conducive to accuracy.
We don’t know yet if any of the projectiles that hurt the innocents went through the only possible backstop in that terrible encounter, the body of the killer: we do know that NYPD’s standard cartridge, the 124 grain Speer Gold Dot +P 9mm jacketed hollow point, is designed to stay inside the body of the offender if he must be shot. But the criminal appears to have been a skinny guy, and most human bodies aren’t 12” of solid muscle when shot from the front, the minimum parameter according to FBI for police bullet penetration.
Should the cops have held fire and allowed themselves to be murdered? Should they have let what we now know to be a stone-cold premeditating murderer who had killed once already unleash his bullets toward them, AND THE INNOCENT BYSTANDERS BEHIND THE OFFICERS? The common law principle of the Doctrine of Competing Harms, enshrined in the New York law as the Doctrine of Necessity, says that the danger of the lawless gunfire the killer presented to the cops and the citizens behind THEM, outweighed the lesser danger THEIR gunfire presented to those behind the criminal.
Neither life nor violent criminals give us perfect choices. The cops did what they had to do, and made the best they could of the lousy hand circumstances dealt them. And, yes, the way this old dog reads the law, that’s how it should have been seen by the courts if the first murder victim had shot back, and fragments of HIS bullets had struck innocents when HE fired to prevent what was otherwise almost certain death to Someone Good who didn’t deserve to be slaughtered by Someone Evil.