Examining police tactics: When is it justified to shoot?

Decision to first pull the trigger goes back to training at the police academy

(CNN) – When to shoot: when is it justified and when is it criminal? It’s what’s fueling tension in Ferguson, and whether criminal charges are warranted in the decision facing the grand jury.

However, for a police officer, you can trace the decision to first pull the gun back to training at the police academy. “Throughout the United States, this is standard training.”

Forensic criminologist Ron Martinelli says he’s been an expert witness in more than 100 shooting cases, most of them officer-involved. “I don’t know this person is armed. He’s a big guy and intimidating.”

Ferguson police say Michael Brown’s body was found 35 feet from the police car. It’s unclear at what distance he was shot from, but these types of officer involved shootings typically happen in close proximity.

At a San Diego shooting range, using training weapons, Martinelli shows us what’s called the “21-foot rule”. “Do you even have time to aim at this distance?”

“At this distance, there is no aiming.” Everything takes time; two seconds to un-holster and lift the gun…“You have to press a button, rock it back, pull it out.” The same amount of time it takes for him to run 21 feet.

Change the scenario…“Even at this distance, even where you see the knife, even where your gun is out, he’s still got you.”

“We can really see that knife right there; I got a lot of time, on my front side, well, then that distance is ok. But in most real street situations, not enough. Got to get farther back.”

Change the scenario to a smaller female assailant, and you gain a little more time, but not much. And this doesn’t factor in the officer’s experience and adrenaline level, if there’s cover, or if people are in the line of fire. Then add to the officer’s duty belt.

“The more things you add to the holster or duty belt, that delays the officer’s response by 50% of reaction time.” But Martinelli adds this: just because this is academy training doesn’t mean every officer-involved shooting is justified.

“That assailant poses an imminent threat, not potential, but imminent threat to that officer of serious bodily injury or death. If they don’t have that, that deadly force would not be seen as objectively reasonable.”

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