That’s the amount of time you get to make a life or death decision, a split second. How long is that really? Turn your head, look left and then look forward that’s about 1 second. Traveling in a car at 50 mph you have just traveled about 75 feet. A trained police officer can fire at least 5 rounds in that same 1 second; it’s actually a lot of time. In a stressful event we have all heard that “time stands still” making that 1 second seem like an eternity. So how fast can an encounter with an armed subject go from bad to worse? A lot faster than than one second.
The current use of body cameras has allowed all of us to be the Monday morning quarterbacks of officer involved shootings. We get to watch after the fact from the comfort of our living rooms and judge the tactics and encounters we witnessed. How did the officer do? Did he compare to our favorite TV cops, or did our inner CSI show the flaws in what happened.
I’ve watched a bunch of these videos and even the best of them still leave out as much as they show. The angles are wrong, the clarity is lacking or the resolution is grainy. Earlier I posted a link to one of the better videos I have seen; it struck me that even as good as it was there were still missing pieces there were still detractors. One lawyer questioned the officer’s use of force because the suspect clearly dropped an item (you really cannot make out what he drops in the video) and reached for it. The lawyer did not feel the suspect presented a threat which justified the use of lethal force. How in the world can Mr. Lawyer know that?
I know my eyes see things that a camera never can, especially in a split second. It is safe to say the officer was able to see the gun the suspect was reaching for. Now comes the fun part…… ”Well if the suspect was only reaching for the gun then why did the officer shoot?”
True, the suspect was reaching for a gun, so why didn’t the officer shoot the gun out of his hand Lone Ranger style? Or engage the suspect in witty banter like Dirty Harry? Because that’s not real life….plain and simple there really is no other way to put it. Movies are for entertainment, they are not real. Real cops do not shoot at low percentage targets like hands and guns; they shoot to end the fight. I guarantee Wyatt Earp never shot a gun out of someone’s hand, it makes no sense. It does, however, make for good entertainment.
NFL quarterbacks often make “split second” decisions; race car drivers make “split second” and cops make split second decisions. So what goes into that split second, I mean in this video the officer already had his gun pointed at the “unarmed” suspect why shoot? I have recently had the opportunity to participate in several classes dealing with these types of reaction times. In one drill two officers stood side by side, one gun up and on target, the other gun in hand at his side. The officer on target shoots as soon as he senses movement from the other. I watched this four times and each time it was at best a tie, usually the officer with the gun at his side won.
How is that possible? There is actually a lot of science involved and it has to do with reaction time, the time it takes the officer to perceive the movement as a threat vs. the amount of time it takes the bad guy to move. Remember, the bad guy will have the edge; he is the only one who knows for sure if and when he is going to shoot. The officer will need to sense the movement, interpret that movement and react to the movement. If the officer waits, he will lose almost every single time.
I found some studies by Dr. Bill Lewinski of Minnesota State University at Mankato. Dr. Lewinski has made a name for himself studying reaction times. In his studies he has listed the time it takes a shooter to fire a round in various situations, for example a cross body draw seated in a car took .15 seconds or 15/100ths of a second!! That is a split second. It took a suspect 09/100th ‘s of a second or .9 seconds to pull a gun from his waist band and fire from waist level and nearly the same to draw and fire with an outstretched arm. If the suspect already had the gun at his side in his hand, it took .38 seconds for him to fire. So, how fast could you react?
The study found the average officer, on target, could perceive the movement and fire in the area of 0.40 seconds or just a split second “slower” than the suspect could get off a round. On a plus side, the officer’s tendency was to be more accurate, but that is not the statistical tie I want to be on the wrong side of. Try it yourself, grab a couple of airsoft guns and see how you do….but those pellets do sting a little. On the other side the folks over at cop block call the study “Snake Oil” and think that Dr. Lewinski is a puppet for law enforcement, but based on my own training and experience I would say he is dead on and the cop block folks should either try it or go smoke another bowl.
What’s the point? In the end I just wanted us to all remember there is always a lot more going on in these videos than we realize. I don’t mean to sound like I’m against the body cameras, I have said many times before I have no issue with them. In the case I cited here I think it will go a long way to make life easier for the officer, it’s a shame we are at the point where that’s even necessary but here we are. The videos are going to be at best another glimpse into what was happening but they will never be able to give the viewer the emotion, the sounds, the smells and the overall vision of what it was like to be there. Watch the videos, learn comment, but remember it all happened in a split second.