Sep 5, 2014
1 comment

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.


  1. I think The Standard has misrepresented the Chief’s statement. He didn’t say shooting to debilitate is “impractical”, which implies something is possible but onerous, he said it was “wildly unrealistic”, which means it’s virtually impossible. These are very different statements and if you’ve ever fired a handgun you’d realize how difficult it is to hit the bullseye, let alone doing so while moving and under great stress.

    Given the sensitive topic The Standard should also have expanded on the remarkable restraint exhibited by Richmond cops when faced with armed aggressors. Last December RPD chased a 15 year old with an Uzi and, unlike the Andy Lopez incident in Santa Rosa, captured him without firing a shot. Before that another cop was confronted with an armed felon and instead of responding with lethal force, risked his own life by apprehending him physically. If you read the periodic RPD updates you’ll find many examples of our police encountering armed felons and taking them into custody while in similar cities such incidents often result in shots fired, sometimes with fatal results. Isn’t it noteworthy for a city with our crime rate to have such a low incidence of officer involved shootings?

    I’m not sure why The Standard decided to post this story but I do think it’s misleading and deserves a correction.

    Felix Hunziker | Sep 6th, 2014

About the Author

Mike Aldax is the editor of the Richmond Standard. He has 13 years of journalism experience, most recently as a reporter for the San Francisco Examiner. He previously held roles as reporter and editor at Bay City News, Napa Valley Register, Garden Island Newspaper in Kaua’i, and the Queens Courier in New York City.