MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Over the past week, WCCO has devoted significant coverage to officer-involved shootings — from the death of Jamar Clark a week and half ago to a Columbia Heights man early Tuesday morning.
That had Sherri from Buffalo Lake and Fitz from Excelsior wanting to know: Why don’t police just try to hurt suspects? Good Question.
“They’re not really trained to shoot to kill, they’re trained to stop the threat, which often results in death,” says Dale Burns, a Hennepin Technical College teacher of police training programs for the state of Minnesota.
Burns says officers are trained to shoot at the chest, or center mass of a person’s body, because it is the biggest target and will stop someone if he or she gets hit.
“They could’ve shot him in his arm or leg, tased him, but kill him?” asked Jamie Castilla on Tuesday after her brother was killed by police. “That’s a shot to kill.”
Shooting at a hand or arm is very hard to do, says Burns. Research from the Force Science Institute shows hands and arms can be the fastest moving body parts. Shooting at a person’s legs can also leave their hands free.
“If I could see their hand perfectly and they were holding still and I had lots of time to aim, sure — but it doesn’t work that way. It’s very fluid. It happens extremely fast,” Burns said. “If you miss, you’re probably going to get killed, or shot yourself, or stabbed, or clubbed — whatever the case may be.”
Minnesota law allows officers to use deadly force to protect themselves or someone else from death or great bodily harm. Defense attorney Joe Tamburino says police are legally able to use more force than the average person.
“The reviewing party has to decide from the perspective of a reasonable police officer on the scene if there was a threat,” he says.
In 2012, lawmakers in New York proposed legislation that would require officers to shoot at limbs, but that bill was quickly tabled. Over the past three decades, the Supreme Court has ruled police can use deadly force if they believe there’s a threat of death or serious physical injury.
“They got tasers, other things around them, why are guns the first option?” asked Deondre Lowe of Minneapolis.
Burns says tasers don’t always work, especially in Minnesota where people wear lots of layers of clothes. He also points out a taser takes a relatively long time to reload if it doesn’t work the first time.
“They do use tasers quite a bit, but if you use a taser in a deadly force situation, you’re asking an officers to take on a lot of risk that they shouldn’t be expected to do,” he said.