The type and amount of firearms training which should be given to a police officer has been subject or discussion for many years. The discussion still continues

 Much of the training, philosophy and mechanics was taken directly from the military services.   Some of it was inspired by descriptions of gunfights as set forth in stories of the wild, wild, west.   Still another source was the imagination of the handgun enthusiast who attempted to adapt his hobby to law enforce­ment.   Sometimes the training seemed to be appropriate because police officers were able to survive life-threatening situations. In other cases the result bore out the fact that something was lacking in the training.

 Even when the training was supported by a good result, no one was sure why it had worked.   Certainly no one knew why the results were bad because had they known, the techniques would have been changed.

 It was this lack of certainty as to the relationship between training and results that led the New York City Police Department to establish a new reporting and investigative system of evalu­ating serious police encounters.   This procedure for in-depth documenting and studying police use of firearms and assaults on police was instituted by the Firearms and Tactics Section in 1969.

 It was designated Department Order SOP 9 (s. 69).

 SOP 9 (s. 69) includes a very detailed reporting form which is designed to get the complete experience of each officer involved in a hostile police action where a weapon was used by and/or against him and to record it in the standard format.   The officer's report is accompanied by his supervisor's report in narrative form.   Both are reviewed by one of the firearms instructors and the training supervisor in the Firearms and Tactics Section.

 SOP 9 (s. 69) has provided detailed accounts of the cir­cumstances surrounding each serious confrontation involving members of the Department since January 1, 1970.   It has been the source of realistic statistics which have resulted in significant changes in the firearms training program.   No longer does the training include only the mechanical skills related to shooting.   It now emphasizes, equally, the situational and tactical use of police weapons.

 It is important to consider that, despite the fact that these data come from New York City, they are not just applicable to a skyscraper environment.   The city has a wide variety of neighborhoods.   In addition to the towering structures of Manhattan, it has numerous suburban communities, beaches, large parks, deserted and remote areas, interstate highways, swamps, islands, lakes, rivers and ocean fronts.   As a result, it is highly likely that the lessons learned from SOP 9 (s. 69) are important to police officers everywhere.

The following is a brief review of the more than 6,000 cases detailed in SOP 9 reports which have involved the deaths of 49 officers at the hands of assailants, another 256 shot and wounded, and 216 who were stabbed.


 The Element of Surprise

 It has been theorized that most police officers were killed or seriously injured as a result of routine incidents which suddenly escalated into deadly confrontations. That theory became questionable as a result of SOP 9.

 In 70% of the cases reviewed, the officer had some previous knowledge of the danger he was about to encounter.   Responding to, or interrupting, felonies in progress, shots fired or "man with gun”1 runs, investigating suspicious persons or disorderly man calls account for the majority of deaths or injuries.

 Situations in which rapid escalation occurred were most often activities considered routine, such as car stops, guarding, transporting or fingerprinting prisoners or handling people with mental problems. Family disputes did not prove to be high on the police danger list.

 The reports, supported by follow-up interviews with the participants in deadly confrontations, indicate that in stress situations the officer invariably resorts to techniques learned during training exercises. This is true regardless of whether there was prior knowledge of danger or whether there was an element of surprise.   For that reason, response procedures, tactics and situational use of weapons are as vital a part of firearms training as the teaching of marksmanship skills.

 Judgment exercises, role-playing skits and self-assessment situations can be a vital part of the firearms training program. It will aid in developing proper attitudes and sharpen reaction time by exposing the officer to at least a simulation of what he is likely to encounter on the street.   Including situations which will instruct in the patterns of dangerous encounters will teach the when, why and how to employ firearms and point out the possible options available.

 Sniper Attacks and Ambushes

 Sniper and ambush incidents represent less of 1% of the cases reported.   The so-called routine police incidents represented a far greater danger.

 Training to reduce injuries in these situations centers on tactics rather than hardware.   It accentuates essential general police patrol techniques as the best precautionary safeguard against sudden attacks.

 In some of the validated cases, it appeared that good patrol technique would have neutralized the situation.   In others, it was clear that moving swiftly out of the line of fire or, when that was not possible, seeking Immediate cover was crucial.   A sniper has all of the elements for success on his side:  Surprise, concealment planned encounter, unsuspecting target.   The proper sequence of response is to take cover, then attempt to locate the assailant and respond.

 Number of Adversaries

 The number of adversaries and the number of officers present when an action takes place is significant in the development of a realistic training program.   Reports on incidents involving police death revealed that the officer was alone more often than not and that he was confronted by at least two people.   In the deadly encounters in which the officer survived, and in cases where more than one officer was present, more than one assailant was involved half~of the time    It is clear that officers must be trained in situations which will instruct them in the techniques of using their revolver or shotgun when dealing with two or more armed adversaries.

 Facing multiple adversaries requires skilled use of weapons and great mental discipline.   The officer must force himself to concentrate with “tunnel-like” vision on one target, no matter how briefly, and engage that target completely before changing to another.   Primary target selection is vital although there may not be much choice.   The primary target should be the individual who presents the greatest or most immediate danger. Subsequent targets should be selected on the same basis. Setting up a hypothetical case illustrates the principle.

 An officer is dispatched to a robbery in progress. He is confronted by three men. One is armed with a sawed-off shotgun, one with a pistol and the other with a large hunting knife. The distance is thirty feet.   Which of the three should become the first target for the officer?  What if the man with the knife is five feet away and the other two thirty feet away?

Experience dictates that cover and maneuverability offer the best chance for success in a combat situation. However, the training doctrine developed for use in an exposedcondition involves use of the crouch/point shoulder stance. The feet are spread forbalance and the arms locked at shoulder, elbow and wrist.   The body becomes the gun platform, swiveling at the knees.   Multiple targets can be fired on with speed and  accuracy through an arc of 140 degrees without moving the feet.


 Location of Incidents

 The SOP 9 (5. 69) study and the "Killed in the Line of Duty" survey disclosed that in over 70% of the cases reported, the location of deadly encounters was out-of-doors    the street, sidewalk, alley, roof or park.   Another 25% took place indoors in hallways, apartments, basements, stores, banks and bars.   In two cases, the locations were churches.

 Surprise, coupled with the use of cover, was the principal factor to which preventing a violent attack was attributed. These two key elements were achieved through a planned response even though the plan may have been superficial and quickly conceived.


 The element reported as the single most important factor in the officer's survival during an armed confrontation was cover. Because of this determination, use of cover is included in firing line exercises and is stressed by the firearms instructors. As has been pointed out, in a stress situation an officer is likely to react as he was trained to react.

There is almost always some type of cover available but it may not be recognized as such without training. Outdoors there are trees, utility poles, automobiles, trash cans, mail boxes, fire hydrants, and a multitude of other objects. Indoors, a store counter, filing cabinets or furniture can serve the purpose'. Although the standard 'barricade position is a good beginning, the officer needs the opportunity, in training to learn the use of the type of cover which may be available to him in realistic situations. These common items are readily available, usually without cost for use in training.  They offer a very practical supplement to basic firearms training and the practicality of the training is quite apparent to the trainee.

 Lighting Conditions

 The majority of incidents in which officers used their firearms occurred in poor lighting conditions.   None occurred in what could be called total darkness.   Some light was always available.   It was also noted that flashlights were not used as a marksmanship aid.   They were used only as a searchlight and to find proper footing in dim light.   They were also used in a number of instances as a substitute for the baton.

 A prime concern in dim light situations is target identifi­cation.  The officer should not be trained to fire at muzzle flashes, noises, through walls or closed doors. He must be trained to hold his fire until he has positive knowledge that the target is a proper one.

 Training for dim light conditions necessarily involves the flashlight.   Although it is an invaluable tool when needed to get around in dim light, signal at accidents, or read papers, it must be used with caution.   This is especially true when a combat confrontation is a possibility.

 The flashlight should be used from behind cover whenever possible.   It should be kept low and as far from the center of the body mass as possible.   It should not be kept lighted for extended periods.

 The most acceptable type of flashlight is one of tube configuration, dark colored and equipped with a button and slide switch.   In an armed confrontation only the button should be used since the light will go off if dropped.

 Dim light firing involves still another element which is different from full light firing, muzzle flash.   Muzzle flash from the off-duty gun may be more distracting than that of the service gun since, in many cases, they have shorter barrels. Dim light training, then, must involve use of both weapons.   See appendix for dim light firing course

 Distances Encountered

 The distances Involved In Instances reported under SOP 9 (s. 69) remained fairly consistent over the ten years in which it has been in effect.   In fact, the encounters resulting in an officer's death have remained almost identical for the past 125 years. Patrolman James Cahill was killed on September 29, 1854 at approximately the same distance (less than three feet) as was

 Officer David Guttenberg on December 29, 1978.

 The distances involved are a most Important element In the development of a realistic firearms training program.   It has been said that if a man can hit a target at 50 yards he can certainly do the same at three feet.   The reports do not bear out that assumption.   Standard revolver courses of fire may have little relationship to an individual gunfight.   The scores achieved do not necessarily reflect the officer's ability to perform in an armed confrontation.   (See appendix for close combat course.)

 A review of the records indicates that from September 1854 to December 1979, 318 members of the Department were killed in the line of duty. Of this number, 64 met their deaths in fires, vehicle accidents, drownings, etc. The remaining 254 died from wounds received while involved in an armed encounter.   In these encounters, the distance between the officer and the person inflicting the fatal wound(s) was:

 DISTANCE                      NUMBER

 Contact to 3 feet                     86

 3 feet to 6 feet                       119

 6 feet to 15 feet                      24

 15 feet to 25 feet                    12

 @ 125 feet (sniper)                 1

 Bomb blast                              4

 Undetermined                         8


The distances Involved where the officers survived the encounter have, as with those which were fatal , remained almost the same during the SOP years (1970-1979) and a random sampling of cases going back as far as 1929.  In these cases, 4,000, the distances were:

 Contact to 10feet                                      51%

 10 feet to 20  feet                                      24%

 20 feet to 45 feet                                      10%

 45 feet to 75 feet                                       7%

 Over 75 feet                                               5%

 Undetermined                                            3%

 It was also noted that as the distance between the officer and the assailant increased, so did the officer's chance for survival. The obvious conclusion is that the most dangerous situation is one in which the officer is in close proximity to the potential assailant, such as interrupting a crime in progress~ restraining, talking, frisking or taking someone into custody.



 Prior to 1974, an officer's revolver qualification was limited to firing ~n approved score with the standard service revolver.   A review at that time revealed, through the SOP 9 (s.  69) reports, that the service revolver was used in only 60% of the cases. The authorized smaller framed civilian clothes revolver was used in 35%.   In the remaining 5%, an undercover type pistol or shotgun was employed.   Percentages have remained consistent over the past ten years.

 In view of the statistics, and because many officers had experienced difficulty in their proficiency with the off-duty weapons, qualification with them became mandatory in 1974. Officers authorized to carry other types of guns because of their assignments  (undercover, confidential investigators, etc.) were also required to qualify with that special  weapon

 Mandatory training and qualification has increased safety when handling and carrying  these non-service guns.   In addition, it has brought home to the officer the limits, capabilities and reliability of the non-service weapon he is authorized to carry.

 No consideration of the police service revolver is complete without concern for the device in which it is carried.   The SOP 9 reports indicate three essential features to be important. They are safety, security and availability. A fourth, concealability, is only  significant in off-duty or undercover use. Emphasis on any of these features will mean a de-emphasis of another,  thus removing compromise.

  In all of the cases reviewed, an unauthorized or gimmick holster (ankle, shoulder,  skeleton, fast draw,  clip-on   etc.) was involved when the revolve was lost, accidentally discharged. or the officer was disarmed.   The cases reviewed emphasize strongly that there is no acceptable substitute for safety and security while carrying a revolver, while having it reasonably available for fast withdrawal. The holster must be firmly contoured, fitted, cover the trigger and have a dependable security device.

 To increase security, it is attached to a belt worn snugly about the waist on the strong hand side and fitted in such a way that the grip is close to the body at elbow height.

 The elements mentioned above dictate the use of standard stocks and grips.   Nospecially fitted target-type or colored grips, are allowed.


Firearms training programs have been based to a large extent on the assumption that when an officer is attacked with a deadly or dangerous weapon, it will  be a firearm.   Reports (SOP 9 5.  69) reveal  that there has been an increase in the use of firearms by assailants since 1970.   However, they account for only 60% of the attacks on police. The remaining 40% are a varied lot which includes hand grenades, hatchets, knives, bayonets, meat cleavers, tire irons, baseball bats, etc.

 Examination of the circumstances surrounding the deaths of the 254 officers killed in the line of duty show that firearms were used in 230 (90%) of the cases and knives in 11 (5%).   In the remaining 13 cases, seven officers were beaten, four were bombed, and two were thrown to their deaths.

 These facts indicate that training programs must include the defensive use of police weapons In situations where an officer is confronted with a weapon other than a firearm.   In these situations, an officer is trained to keep as much distance between himself and his assailant as possible until  the weapon Is discarded.   He must not allow himself to get into a position where his maneuverability Is Impaired. This Is best accomplished by using an obstruction, such as a chair, table or counter to prevent a lunging attack.

 An obstruction which must be jumped or run around is the best defense. 

Reports indicate that In some cases psychopaths, addicts and intoxicated opponentsay continue to attack even after being fatally struck by gunfire.


 Quick Draw

 Drawing the revolver is involved with both technique and tactics.   Rapid drawing and firing of the revolver was emphasized in past training programs. but has been discarded.   Instead, emphasis is placed on when to draw.   SOP 9 reports show that 65% of the officers who had prior knowledge of impending danger had their revolvers drawn and ready. This is proper, tactically, for a number of reasons:

1. Holsters which are designed with the proper element of security in mind do not lend themselves to quick draw.

2. Safety of the officer is enhanced when he anticipates an armed confrontation or is covering people who are, or may be, armed.

3. The possibility of an escalation of force and/or violent response is reduced.

 4. The incidence of accidental discharges is reduced. It has been noted repeatedly that officers resort to the techniques they were taught in stress situations. Quick draw and fire exercises have been replaced by those which teach safe and rapid removal of the revolver.   Equally Important is the philosophy of having the revolver drawn and ready when appropriate.   SOP 9 proves the old bromide, "Don1t draw your gun and point it at anyone unless you intend to shoot" to be a tactical blunder.

 Strong Hand or Weak Hand

 Shooting with both the strong and weak hand is a standard part of firearms training.  However, the review showed that officers, with an occasional exception, fired with the strong hand. This was the case even when it appeared advantageous to use the weak hand.

 The strong hand was used because the officer was in close contact with his adversary, because he already had it in the strong hand at the time, or because he drew it as the incident escalated. Another reason surfaced. Many officers indicated more confidence In their ability to perform better with the strong hand.  These officers were not willing to trade this proficiency for a less exposed position (shooting from behind a barricade or covered position).   As a result, the value of placing heavy emphasis on weak hand shooting during training and qualification Is subject to question.


 Body positions taught during firearms training have remained fairly constant over the years. In 84% of the cases reviewed. the officer was in a standing or crouch position (supported and unsup­ported) when he fired.   Rarely were the prone, sitting or standard PPC barricade positions used during firearms confrontations. The training program, therefore, is primarily concerned with the positions actually employed, including squatting, kneeling, leaning, etc.).   See Section II, “Environmental  Factors."

Sight Alignment

 Good sight alignment is fundamental to target shooting. Yet, 70% of the cases reviewed indicated that no sight alignment was employed when the revolver was fired.   These officers reported that they used the instinctive or point shooting method of firing.   This technique was used for a variety of reasons: the close proximity of their adversary, rapid escalation of the incident, poor lighting or the need for the swiftest possible reaction.

 As the distance between the officer and his opponent increased, some type of aiming was reported in 20% of the cases. This aiming or sighting ran from using the barrel as an aiming reference to picking up the front sight and utilizing fine sight alignment.  The remaining 10% could not remember whether they had aimed or pointed and fired the weapon instinctively.

 These observations revealed the importance of training officers point shooting with emphasis on good form and trigger manipulation to increase hit potential when sights are not used.

 Single and Double Action

 The continuing review of cases confirmed the observation made from earlier studies that the vast majority of officers employed the double action technique.   This method was used in 90% of the situations and used almost without exceptions in close range, surprise or immediate danger incidents.  These confrontations invariably bring an instinctive response from the officer in somewhat the same degree, and for the same reasons, disclosed in the analysis of use of sight alignment.

 Most of the single action shooting was done when there was no immediate threat. It was used to destroy injured or threatening animals, in barricaded criminal situations, from behind protective cover, for warning shots and in unintentional discharges.

 Reported use, despite training in both techniques, indicates that the double action technique Is the one which comes most naturally in many situations.   For that reason, it Is being emphasized as the primary technique.

 Single action shooting has not been abandoned. It Is taught as the alternative method.

 It may increase the ability of some officers to strike a target more accurately due to the lighter trigger pull.   However, the trade-off in safety and the reported preponderance of unintentional discharges in the single action mode have relegated It to secondary status.

Rapid Reloading

 The SOP 9 study reveals that the average number of shots fired by individual officers in an armed confrontation is between two and three rounds, less than half the capacity of the service revolver.   The two to three rounds per incident has remained constant over the years covered by the report. It also sub­stantiates an earlier study by the L.A.P.D.  (1967) which found that 2.6 rounds per encounter were discharged.

 The necessity for rapid reloading to prevent death or serious injury was not a factor In any of the cases examined.   In close range encounters, under 15 feet, it was never reported as neces­sary to continue the action.   However, in 6% of the total cases the officer reported reloading.   These involved cases of pursuit, barricaded persons and other incidents where the action was pro­longed and the distance exceeded the 25 foot death zone.

 It is evident in some cases that lack of firepower, not having a larger capacity weapon and/or ability to reload rapidly, may have changed the outcome.   In no case was it the prime factor in bringing the contact to a successful conclusion

 Despite the apparent low incidence of need, this training has not been discontinued.   The manipulatory skill, over all familiarity with the revolver gained, and its value in some situations make it a useful part of training exercises.   It is not emphasized to the degree it has been in the past at the expense of accurate delivery of the fired rounds.   Every report indicates that it is accurate hits that count rather than the number.

 Warning Shots

 The Department's firearms policy, adopted in August of 1972, prohibits the firing of warning shots.   Since the order was pub­lished, discharges that were classified as warning shots have been reduced by 93% (183 in 1970 to 14 in 1978).   The rationale for this prohibition was twofold:

  1. A warning shot could endanger innocent bystanders.

  2. Warning shots were most often fired in an effort to stop a fleeing felon rather than as a means for reducing the escalation of force.

 The additional hazard of firing warning shots to officers In civilian clothes was not realized until this review. Chain reaction firing on the part of uniformed police who were respond­ing was sometimes set off by the warning shot

 Although the policy is still in effect, there have been occasions when such shots were deemed prudent and tactically correct. The prohibition has been continued for the reasons stated but each case is examined on its own merits to determine whether it was prudent.

 Firing at or from a Vehicle

 Interim Order 118 s.  1973 prohibits discharging a firearm at, or from, a moving vehicle unless the occupants of the other vehicle are using deadly physical force by means other than the vehicle itself.   While firing at a moving vehicle is permitted under the circumstances stated, the  .38 Special cartridge used by the N.Y.P.D. will not penetrate an automobile body readily. Ricochets from the body, or even the glass, have proved as dangerous and deadly as the bullet in its initial flight.

 Hitting a moving target is difficult.   This difficulty Is increased many times over when both the shooter and the target~ even an automobile, are in motion.   Not only must the officer be justified in firing at the operator or occupants of a vehicle, he must also assume the responsibility for damage or injury which might result from causing the vehicle to go out of control.

 Accurate fire from hand-held weapons from a fast-moving vehicle is almost impossible, even by a highly trained officer. This practice is discouraged regardless of the skill of the officers involved, especially in congested locations.

 Backup Personnel

 The use of backup personnel by police has been a standard patrol safety technique for years. SOP 9 indicates certain pre­cautions should be taken in order to reduce the incidence of problems of mistaken identity.   It also points out the need to keep the number of officers directly involved to the minimum required in order to reduce the dangers to those involved and to the public.

 The purpose of this part of the analysis, however   has to do with the use of backup personnel by criminals.

 Review of the reports reveals an increasing use of this tactic in criminal activities.   This is particularly true in armed robbery but not confined to this type of crime.   The obvious purpose is to attempt to facilitate the escape of those actively engaged in the crime in case of interruption.   The backup per­son(s) assume the role of an innocent bystander and blend with others present while locating himself in the best strategic location possible.

 Some examples of how this has been done follow:

1.      In the case of a bank robbery, a backup person may be standing in another line or preparing a deposit slip at a desk.

2.      In a truck hijack, the backup may be waiting, with others, at a bus stop, simulating a delivery from a rented truck or fixing a flat tire nearby.

3.      One or more persons may seat themselves In a booth or at the end of a bar prior to a robbery

These and other tactics have been responsible for the inclusion of some of the role-playing exercises, mentioned earlier, in the training program.   Officers are reminded constantly that they must be aware of the possibility of encountering accomplices when responding to crimes in progress or staking out a dangerous location.   Awareness of this possibility, use of any available cover and alertness to the entire scene have been found the means for countering this tactic.



Bullet Potential

 Few controversies in law enforcement have stimulated as much conversation as bullet potential, the makeup of the cart­ridge used in police service revolvers.   Prior to the initiation of SOP 9, the emotions, opinions, paper ballistics, personal preferences and "war stories" made it impossible to differentiate between fact and fiction.   The result, with facts gleaned from the reports, has been the preparation of a separate instructor guide, "The Police Revolver and Bullet Potential."

 This analysis has attempted to sort out the facts available from the autopsy table, reports of ballisticians, pathologists, medical examiners and emergency room surgeons.   During the period 1970 through 1979, 46 officers have been killed and 256 wounded by gunfire in police confrontations.   In response, the police have inflicted 10 casualties for every one suffered at the hands of their assailants.

 In all the cases investigated, one factor stood out as a proper measure of bullet efficiency. That factor was bullet placement. The investigation into this matter was not confined to the Department8s standard velocity, 158-grain, semi-wadcutter bullet.   It included cases in which the reported caliber ranged from the .44 magnum to the .22 long rifle, and practically every caliber in between.

 It was not the size, shape, configuration, composition, caliber or velocity of the bullet which performed the task. It was the placement that caused death, or injury serious enough to bring a confrontation to an end.   This conclusion has resulted from analysis of the reports and with full knowledge of other reports, studies, articles and experiments which have been published

 Hit Potential In Gun Fights

 An attempt was made to relate an officer's ability to strike a target in a combat situation to his range qualification scores ended with no clear connection. After making over

200 such com­parisons, no firm conclusion was reached.

 The police officer's potential for hitting his adversary during armed confrontation has

 Increased over the years and stands at slightly over 25% of the rounds fired. An assailant's skill was 11% in 1979. 0bservations made on this subject are impossible to document and must be considered as opinions. There are many variables in armed confrontations which cannot be measured because they cannot be recreated, such as the reaction to stress (a major factor).   It was noted, however, that the potential of striking a target in a gunfight has improved since incorporation of training exercises in close combat, moving targets at close range, dim light and multiple target firing.

 It also appears that the inclusion of judgment situations and tactical exercises has aided in the reduction of death and injuries.  This observation is based on the results and is tempered by the fact that the police enter almost every situation at a disadvantage

 It can only be concluded that a police officer's chance of survival is greatly enhanced by participation in a regularly scheduled, realistic training program.

 Body Alarm and Exertion

 Many police officers find firing a revolver accurately difficult, even in the academic

environment of a controlled pistol range. In a police action rapid heart beat, muscle tremors and Irregular breathing, brought on by emotional tension and/or physical exertion, add to the inherent difficulty.   When these physiological and psychological factors are coupled with poor lighting, irregular terrain, obstructed view and Irregular movement of the target, it is easy to understand why shooting accurately is extremely difficult.

 In order to prepare officers for the difficulties which will be experienced in stress situations, an exertion course, simulating these conditions is given to all recruit classes near the completion of firearms training. The purposes of this course are to show through actual experience: 1) the effects of physical stress on marksmanship and 2) the futility of firing the revolver while running. The course is designed to increase the heart and respiratory rates by running and to induce unsteadiness of the hands similar to that encountered in most armed confrontations.

 Actually experiencing the decline in proficiency seems the most positive way to convince each officer that his accuracy will be reduced under physical and mental stress. This awareness on his part makes it easier to get him to accept the measures necessary to compensate for the loss.

 Close attention to the fundamentals, and aggressive practice of them, are the only compensating elements available to him. Good form in assuming the positions, including use of support and cover, good grip and trigger manipulation will increase retaliatory efficiency in combat situations. This applies, however, only to stationary shooting. When an officer continues to run and fire while running, his ability to strike an intended target is decreased dramatically and decreases progressively as the distance between himself and his target increases. Firing while running changes the situation from one where skill has a bearing into one in which the outcome depends on pure chance. This alteration in the odds endangers the officer unnecessarily by depleting his ammunition supply. It increases many times over the possibility of death or injury to innocent persons who may be present.




Accidental Discharges

The number of unintentional discharges averaged about 40 over the period studied (1970-1978). This number is relatively small in light of the size of the force (28,000), that all officers are required to be armed at all times when they are in the city, and that 4.000 non-police firearms are handled and processed each year. Despite the low number, unintentional discharges are of grave concern to training officers. Not only do they endanger the lives of officers and other innocent persons, but they create publicity which reflects on the professional reputation of the whole department.


The major situations in which unintentional discharges occurred follows:


Struggling with adversary                               25%

Use of a non-service type holster                   20%

Running, tripping or falling during pursuit       20%

Handling an unfamiliar firearm                        15%

Cleaning a firearm                                          10%

Undetermined                                                 10%


Unintentional discharges of semi-automatic pistols occurred more often than with revolvers when compared to the number carried or processed. These discharges occurred despite the fact that officers who were authorized to carry semi-automatic pistols in lieu of the standard service revolver were trained and qualified in their use.

 It was concluded from the review that the training program can reduced the incidence of unintentional discharge by:

1.      Incorporating a segment on the safe handling of non-service types of weapons.

2.      Requiring mandatory qualifications for officers whose units are equipped with shotguns, rifles, semi-automatic and automatic weapons and tear gas launching devices. NOTE: Both of the above must emphasize a knowledge of the functioning of the weapon and firing cycle – a “how they work” approach. While they may appear simple on the surface, it is a complicated matter for the occasional user and the officer who has little interest in firearms except for his service revolver.

3.      Including care and cleaning instruction in the post academy training cycle with emphasis on basic safety considerations involved in cleaning a firearm.

4.      Emphasizing the dangers of gimmick, unorthodox, worn, unserviceable and macho holsters.

 Lack of or Mistaken Identification

An earlier analysis of SOP9, made in 1974, documented the circumstances of police firing on each other due to mistaken identity. Five of these incidents resulted in officers being killed. All of those officers killed were in civilian clothes, had weapons exposed and made what could be interpreted as threatening gestures towards the officers who had challenged them. (this included firing warning shots). In similar confrontations, uniformed officers, because they were readily identifiable, did not become “victims.” This was certainly not the case when officers were not in uniform. The problem is aggravated when two or more non-uniformed officers respond to the same incident. Police officers frequently have been mistaken for criminals, by citizens and fellow officers alike. This is not unusual since 40% of serious police confrontations with criminals involve non-uniformed personnel. Half of these incidents involve shabbily-dressed street crime, anti-crime and undercover unit personnel.

 As a result of this analysis, mistaken identification confrontations became a priority and immediate steps were taken to identify the causes and correct the condition. The reports and interviews with officers involved revealed three elements:

 1.      Preconceived notions that place a suspect in a “bad guy” category, influenced by many factors: Mode of dress; grooming, type of weapon observed; location of the incident; race; shots fired prior to contact; others. It should be noted that officers reach these unwarranted conclusions regardless of their own race or the mode of dress or grooming at the time.

2.      Officers in civilian clothes fail to realize that they are not readily identifiable by other officers. When preoccupied by a violent encounter this tendency is heightened. Non-uniformed officers must be made aware that the burden of identification lies with them and that they must not do anything which could be construed as a threat. If challenged, they should maintain their position, not move suddenly, and reply in a loud, clear voice, “I’m a police officer,” “I’m on the job” or some other reply which will establish his identity without question. He should obey the instructions of the challenging officer without hesitation.

3.      The challenge and reply should be simple, clear and understood beforehand by both parties. “Police, don’t move,” is easily understood. Terms such as “freeze,” “drop it,” and others of that type seem to work in the pre-arranged situations on television but such language had led to serious confrontations in the real world of the street.

 In challenge or reply jargon, slurs or flip remarks are not acceptable. The challenge and reply are crucial in a tense situation and require professional, understandable language to minimize the danger of mistaken identity.

 Since the standard “Police, don’t move” challenge was incorporated in the training program in 1975, and notice of this challenge pasted on every locker in the Department, there has not been one deadly confrontation between officers. This, along with the prohibition of “funny guns” such as pearl handled, nickel-plated and other show types, and the use wherever possible of a recognized jacket and baseball-type cap marked “Police,” has all but eliminated the identification problem.