Richmond police chief: Shooting to debilitate rather than kill an armed suspect ‘unrealistic’

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Richmond residents awakened by 11 gunshots Friday morning

Following several high-profile officer-involved shootings in the U.S., police critics questioned why officers don’t aim their firearms at body parts that would be less deadly, such as an arm or leg.

An article published in Vox Friday examines how police are trained to use force and includes some interesting insights from Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus.

Magnus addressed claims from some citizens that police should not aim to kill suspects who advance on officers with a knife rather than a gun. Magnus said aiming a gun with the sole intention of debilitating a suspect is  “stuff for the TV and movies.”

“The notion that it’s possible to shoot somebody just to the level that they’re debilitated — to shoot a gun out of somebody’s hand, to shoot them in the leg — that is the stuff of TV and movies,” Magnus said. “That’s wildly unrealistic.”

Although Richmond officers go through firearms training once a month, Magnus told Vox, factors such as the stress of a confrontation, the weather and lighting can make it “impractical for an officer to aim a shot somewhere other than the center of the body.”

Once an officer decides to use a gun he or she has decided to use lethal force and needs to accept the consequences, Magnus said.

A big area of misunderstanding, the chief added, is “how quickly individuals with weapons can advance on an officer, and how deadly the results can be.”

The article quoted a university professor who studies use of force and says he would use a Taser on someone armed with a blunt instrument, but would “never try to disarm someone with a knife.” The article also cited a broad consensus among police chiefs that an officer is allowed to use deadly force when attacked by a knife-wielding citizen.

The Richmond Police Department hasn’t killed any civilians since 2008, as all five suspects shot by police since then survived, Vox noted.

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