Cops shoot bystanders. Why?

NYPD pistol qualification. Two cops engaged the bad guy from closer than this. They did kill him, but most of their rounds missed, and they wounded nine luckless citizens. Image: NYPD Firearms Training Committee

Nine bystanders are recovering after having been wounded, apparently, by NYPD officers in the vicinity of the Empire State Building. The cops were trying to stop a murderer who pulled a gun on them, but apparently, didn’t get a shot off.

The cops did succeed in hitting the killer with seven of 16 shots, at a distance police officials reported as eight feet. The other nine rounds went wide, steaming into in the midtown throng. Some of the bystanders were hit by bullets directly, but most of the wounds appear to have been from ricochet fragments and from shattered masonry. Some of the rounds appear to have been fired at, or into, the already-dead killer as he lay on the sidewalk, and the rabbit-rounds off the pavement were what sent so many New Yorkers to the hospital.

We use all the “appears” and “apparentlys” because, of course, we’re working off media reports (largely in the New York Times), and journalists are to reporting accuracy as NYPD patrolmen are to shooting accuracy: they hit the mark at point-blank range nearly half the time.

This is pretty typical of NYPD shooting — essentially, most of the time missing the equivalent of the paper at a range of under three paces, with a handgun a trained marksman can hit e-type silhouettes at 100 meters with.

There’s no question in our mind that the two officers were right to shoot. A witness identified a suspect and said he had seen the suspect shoot a man dead. The police cautiously approached the suspect. He instantly pulled a Star .45 on them. It’s hard to imagine a situation that’s a more righteous shooting, and the cops are to be applauded for their speedy reaction and for sparing the citizens of the Empire State the tedium and expense of a trial and decades of incarceration of this clown. But where they departed from righteousness is in their marksmanship, which was dreadful.

We’re seeing a lot of excuse-making around the net (and coming from the Times, and police spokesmen): adrenaline, fear degrading performance, combat shakes, etc. We call bullshit. Combat shakes are real, but you get them after you kill the guy, not while you’re doing it. If your training has been thorough enough and your stress-inoculation deep and broad, you’ll shoot people just as well as you shoot bull’s-eyes. If you’ve been trained to assume there’s always a solid backstop when you fire, you’ll ventilate whatever’s downrange from the bad guy. QED.

The killer was a fashion designer who shot one of the executives of the company that had just sacked him. He was probably pretty emotional when he blew the luckless vice-president away, but he didn’t hit anybody but his intended target. If a scum-of-the-earth murderer can do it, why can’t the NYPD?

Well, maybe it’s their lame training. A police recruit gets 13 days of weapons training in the Academy. After that, he had to go to the range twice a years and qualify. He never gets any meaningful instruction on what bullets do when they hit various backstops — like a sidewalk. He never gets any meaningful instruction on when to stop shooting, only to “keep shooting until the threat is gone.” Nobody ever really shows or tells him about the wide range of human reactions to gunshot wounds.

But then, you try training these guys. It’s a big job and an expensive one: the department has 35,000 cops which means 70,000 qualification shoots a year, not counting initial instruction for rookies. Every officer not on patrol (i.e., assigned as an instructor) must be justified in a time of tight budgets, and every cartridge expended has to be sold to green eyeshades and white shirts as a necessary expenditure.

As a result, the instructor-student ratio and the time available for training is not — can not be — what we got used to in Special Forces, for example (and we don’t shoot as much as the SEALS!). All that said, this shooting took place at under three paces. Stop and pace that off before coming back to your screen. The police did not hit with over half their shots at that range, against an assailant who did not get a shot off, and they hit nine people who were not targets. 

Yet Mayor Bloomberg, his stuffed white-shirt of a police commisar, and the biens pensants at the Times, all think this was exemplary and there is no room for improvement. In their own hearts and minds, the two cops who were involved know that’s not true. You and I know that’s not true. At some level, even Bloomberg and all know it’s not true.

The police performance here was D+. A dead citizen would be an F, and they didn’t kill a citizen, which raises them to D, and they didn’t let the criminal endanger anyone, which nets them a plus. New York can’t afford to buy A-level marksmanship, across a force the size of the 18th Airborne Corps, we get that. They’re getting better at terminating engagements, too: most readers probably remember the Amadou Diallo case where several cops mag-dumped on a guy who turned out to be entirely innocent (and their marksmanship has improved since then… they were at about 15% hits on Diallo). Both of these guys stopped shooting before they locked back. But the bosses’ smug satisfaction in the performance of this barely-passing shooting bodes ill for further improvements.

Despite all that, we can trust Thomas Kaplan of the New York Times to get right to the bottom of it. Turns out the horrible carnage was caused by — the deadly power of a cheap Spanish knock-off of the GI .M1911A1 pistol. The suspect bought a Star .45 in Florida in 1991, and Kaplan is mesmerized by one of “the more lethal handguns on the American firearms market.” Kaplan seems to be arguing that, if Florida had strict gun bans like New York’s (even though the New York ban is selectively enforced, and charges seldom laid against violent criminals who bust gun laws en passant), why, they’d be free of murders like New York is…oh, wait. Well, that’s the theory, anyway.  If it were even possible, one supposes that Kaplan would applaud the fact that the only shooting victims would be the ones shot by the police. Mind you, that would still be more people than get shot in Miami, total.

Gun Used in Shooting at Empire State Building Is Known for Its Deadly Power – NYTimes.com.

A wag once observed that the usual aftermath of a media-circus shooting is liberal statists (if the shoe fits, Kaplan, Bloomberg) calling for a crackdown on the people that didn’t do it. Yet again, QED.

3 thoughts on “Cops shoot bystanders. Why?

  1. GBS

    I’m sure it’s mighty frustrating for the good Mayor and his gun grabbing allies that the piece used here doesn’t fit the high capacity meme pushed in the current attempt to ban anything that carries over 10 rounds. It also doesn’t help the gun-grabber’s cause that this “mass shooting” was done by the police and not the perpetrator. Looking at the video, one cop is fairly stationary and appears to be taking deliberate aim. The partner is moving laterally and retreating a bit, and also appears to be cringing while one-handing the pistol during his/her mag dump. I know where my money would sit on the most missed shots. I’m typically a big supporter of the police, and look to give them the benefit of the doubt, but this appears little better than your slightly above-average concealed carry guy engaging someone. One can only imagine the media spin if a citizen wounded nine while defending him / herself against an armed assailant.

    1. Hognose Post author

      Yeah. There’s no question that shooting was the right thing for the cops to do, our point is that they could have done a much better job. According to the Times, this is the third incident in 2012 where police accidentally wounded bystanders.

      Right now, every shooting in OEF produces a de facto criminal investigation of the shooter (an Article 15-6 investigation, but really an Article 32 in all but name). I have little faith that such a thorough investigation will be done here, unless it’s caused by the inevitable lawsuits. (Mind, that level of investigation in a combat zone is ridiculous, but the staff judge advocates have been acting as if the signature on their paycheck’s is Mullah Omar’s for almost ten years).

  2. Shorty

    When I ran club and concert venue security and had to deal with people we suspected of having pistols or other non-standard weapons (anything other than pocket knives or an occassional pair of knuckles) on them, the last thing I wanted my guys doing was swarming and surprising the person. The first thing about that encounter that I noticed was the police running up on the backside of a suspected murderer who still possessed his weapon in the middle of a crowd without bothering to take a dominant position.

    I am quite interested as to NYPD’s POI on this type of incident.

    And I realize that I’m Armchair Quarterbacking this, but after that officer’s American-Defense-Enterprise-esque one-handed shooting retreat after drawing his weapon into his partner’s back, he should consider doing walk-in warrants for the next few years.

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