A Note From Sweden on Use of Force

images-1I received the following comment from a police officer in Sweden after my recent post “Using Force: A Reflection and Some Suggestions for Police.” I think these comments bear publishing here as a post.


 

“Dear Chief: It’s not just Czech police who shoot at the legs. It’s definitely not a novel or forward-thinking policy, it’s just the way it’s done here. I’m no expert on the rest of Europe, but I know the legs are the primary target in Sweden and the rest of Scandinavia. Center-mass shooting is only when absolutely warranted or the legs aren’t feasible due to too much or too little distance.

“The first time I encountered the American mantra of ‘shooting at the legs, firing warning shots, aiming your gun without intent to fire, but only as a grave warning… that’s only in the movies,’ I was floored.

“Our police do ALL those things even though these practices are apparently deemed unrealistic and unprofessional by police in the U.S. We ‘violate’ all your sacred cows — not out of carelessness but as very deliberate policy. Needless to say it’s working just fine.

“I wonder why these practices are not only so completely opposite one another but also are seemingly unaware of each other. Probably it has a lot to do with the prevalence of armed citizens in the U.S. but that can in no way explain or justify U.S. police not even being ALLOWED to shoot a confused, mentally ill, knife wielding man in the leg, then back up and reassess. Needless to say, police around here are a lot safer with their guns…”

 

37 Comments

  1. It sounds great in theory. We have taught police officers to shoot center-mass since the advent of police training, and likely because that’s the way it was done to eliminate a threat for a very long time before we began training officers to shoot there.

    The writer from Sweden makes an interesting observation about American policing (I’m referring to North, Central, and South American countries) and the way they respond to shootings and the mentally ill armed with a knife, or other weapon.

    My question is, can we change the American (U.S.) police culture of traditional training methods? Is it reasonable to assume we can change training methods in a short period of time; rather than retraining and establishing policy? I fear it would take a generation of police officers to make those changes that we see as common-place in Scandinavia.

    Also, I have a feeling that most countries are not as litigious as the U.S. Legs are a much smaller target, increasing the chances that a round fired could miss its intended target and strike a bystander. I am not defending the way we do things here as a matter of policy and practicality, just questioning the spillover effect emanating from changing the way we do things.

    Most European police agencies have a central command to administer policy. How many autonomous policing agencies are in the U.S.? There are at least 2,500 here in Texas – it is unlikely they will agree uniformly to change policy regarding shootings. We have to start with the police chiefs and sheriffs first. Even if you convince them to modify use of force policies, how long will it take to filter down?

    I spent 38 years in policing and now teach at the college level. Many of my criminal justice students have unkind words to say about policing and police officers. One young Black woman insisted there was an epidemic of police violence…perhaps she is correct. We must do something.

    I’m not sure I have the answer…but policing is full of a lot of ‘smart guys’ (present company included, Chief). Perhaps this is the time to finally approach the leadership of American policing through IACP, NOBLE, HAPCOA, and the NSA.

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  2. “The first time I encountered the American mantra of ‘shooting at the legs, firing warning shots, aiming your gun without intent to fire, but only as a grave warning… that’s only in the movies,’ I was floored.”

    This is an oversimplification. Do we really think police are being taught that if they aim their gun they better shoot? The truth is this teaching is a safety thing so that people don’t aim their guns at just anything. It’s muzzle safety teaching. It’s actually the opposite idea that officer from Sweden is claiming it is. If officers were really being taught they better have intent to shoot when they aim a gun then we would see a lot more police shootings. Chief, do you agree with this officer’s advocating warning shots? I mean if less force were the goal, I don’t see how a warning shot fulfills this. For one, the bullet has to hit somewhere and you have no idea where your warning shot should go. Do we really advocate launching bullets in our cities(or rural areas for that matter) without any regard for where they are going? This is really considered more moral? Imagine how communities would think of police if they saw warning shots on a regular basis.

    “Center-mass shooting is only when absolutely warranted or the legs aren’t feasible due to too much or too little distance.”
    And this just begs the question… what’s too far and what’s too close. What situations warrant shooting in the legs and which ones don’t?

    Look I’m open to new ideas and challenging dogmas, but this officer has done what amounts to criticizing American police without giving good reasoning for his own beliefs. He’s merely stating the differences. I’d love for him to respond with examples that aren’t vague like someone having a mental illness with a knife. I want examples of actual scenarios where not only is it possible to shoot in the legs, but it’s reasonable to train for this without putting the officer in danger of having to make a split second decision of legs or no legs without getting him/herself killed.

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    1. Ryan, thanks for your willingness to jump in here. First of all, no, I do not recommend the use of “warning shots.” But where I would like to go with this discussion is for police and firearms trainers to engage in a discussion of whether or not there can be “less-than-deadly” uses of firearms in situations in which the subject does NOT have a firearm (e.g. standoffs involving edged or blunt weapons). I think the public expects police to engage in this discussion and come up with some creative ways to reduce the number of people shot and killed by police. The reason I say this is that from my early days carrying a 6-shot revolver, it didn’t seem feasible to try and shoot anywhere except center-mass in an encounter. But with the semi-automatic pistols with high capacity clips we have today could we not consider shooting a person’s legs and thus preserving his or her life? That’s where I am going with this. Secondarily, could new technologies be developed (like the attachment I mentioned early in one of my blogs that fits on the barrel or the firearm and shoots a large ball that becomes an impact weapon? Or new developments using ECD technologies? Or even bullet technology using pellets?) In short, I expect police to stand up and engage in this kind of discussion with their communities with a strong statement that we, the police, are in the business of protecting and saving life and we want to make sure we have the right kinds of tools and training to do this. We put men on the moon — can’t we come up with a better way to contain violent, threatening persons? What do you think?

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  3. I’m certainly willing to have the conversation and open to new technologies. My initial position would be that we already have tools for the majority of situations where less than lethal would be preferred. We have pepper spray and tasers. The reason you would use a handgun in the first place is because of the deadly nature of the situation. We’ve seen less than lethal be used in standoffs with knives where there is plenty of distance and bean bag rounds or whatever are used. That’s reasonable, but for the first responder who is charged with a knife it makes no sense to me to attempt a leg shot. If the person with a knife is not engaging the first responder or causing a threat to someone else then why are we shooting them in the leg or anywhere? That’s where we attempt verbal deescalation. I think people would be blown away if they knew how many times lethal force was justified and police didn’t use it. We need to be telling that side as well. If I arrive on scene to a guy with a knife. I’m not going to say, “Hold on, let me put this contraption on the end of my gun”. No offense, but if the knife wielding guy decides to charge at that point, I am screwed. We must remember that at the end of the day, it is this person who has made this circumstance the dangerous situation that it is. It is most often not the fault of the officer. We do not want to take lives, but the person who uses a gun or knife against the officer are doing in most cases with the knowledge that there is a good chance they could pay the ultimate price for it. We certainly need to be mindful of the mentally ill but you hear the media and other tell it and it’s like a mentally ill person is harmless. That’s ridiculous. A mentally ill person in front of me with a knife is no less harmless than anyone else. Frankly, anyone who uses a knife or gun against someone in the first place for reasons outside of self defense have some sort of mental issues so I think the constant comments about police just kill the person whether they are mentally ill or not just don’t mesh with reality. Again, a story that needs to be told is how often officers would be justified in lethal force but haven’t used it. In my 6 years, I can think of no less than 3 times for just me. Officers use restraint constantly because believe it or not, very few officers want to kill anyone.

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    1. Excellent, life-saving police actions do need to be publicized. I don’t think police are doing a very good job of it. The decision to take a life is a life-changing one. I came close a couple of times and I thank God to this day that I did not have to kill anyone during my career. I often wonder if we all strongly believed in unconditionally respecting everyone we met how that would improve police contacts.

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  4. On the FX show Justified, US Marshal Givens did not always shoot center mass. There were times he shot people in the legs. I agreed with Rev. Couper that with all the rounds that are carried by the semi-automatic pistols, the cops have no excuse not to put rounds into people’s legs. Of course, you heard stories of cops shooting at people point blank range with their semi-automatic pistols, and they still couldn’t hit center mass. Might as well give them six shot revolvers in order to motivate them to shoot straight before they are allow to have semi-automatic pistols. In the Civil War, the Confederate guerrilla force under Col. Mosby knew how to shoot straight with two pistols while moving on a fast horse and the Texas Rangers were crack pistol experts when fighting Comanches on foot and horseback.

    Sounds like Ryan is unwilling or unable to learn something different from police officers in other countries. Sounds like not in my backyard syndrome.

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  5. Gunther,

    Just because I have not yet been persuaded by the officer’s comments and a few articles does not mean I’m unable or unwilling to learn something from officers in other countries. You only know that I’ve given responses against the idea of shooting in the leg and from that you have made judgements about me that you couldn’t know. I’m here to learn and be persuaded if possible. The officer from Sweden is more than welcome to respond with actual examples. I can tell you however that giving examples of TV shows is not going to persuade me.

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  6. Ryan, from your comments, it sounds that you still don’t want to learn from cops in other countries on how they deal situations without killing someone so your comments do not persuade me that you are interested in learning. BTW, the TV show Justified is about the only TV show where I see a cop shooting someone in the legs compare to most police TV shows where cops are shooting people dead. That is the point I was making.

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  7. Gunther,

    Again, just because I haven’t been persuaded doesn’t mean that I don’t want to learn. Willingness to learn from others does not require that you agree with them after you hear them out. I understood the point you were making but it’s still a TV show.

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  8. Ryan, I would rather have police officers shoot people in the legs whether on a TV show or in real life. That policy seems to work very well in Europe and there is no reason why it can’t work in America. We Americans have this attitude that if something was not invented in this country, then it is not worth trying to use it and make it work…

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  9. Gunther,

    Maybe training for leg shots is plausible, but I just haven’t been persuaded yet. It will be something I continue to research. While I do agree there is a strong feeling in America for things that are American made, police aren’t just out there discussing American policing and it’s superiority over another country. The point I was originally making is that TV shows are not reality and shouldn’t be treated as such.

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  10. “Maybe training for leg shots is plausible, but I just haven’t been persuaded yet. It will be something I continue to research. While I do agree there is a strong feeling in America for things that are American made, police aren’t just out there discussing American policing and it’s superiority over another country.”

    Why don’t you get off your high horse and go over to Europe and learn from the Swedish cops. How do you know European police are not talking about American policing? It is not about country superiority, it is more about trying to learn from others considering the fact that the American officer been too lazy and too corrupt to make any kind of improvement in his own profession for the last 210 years. Occupied Wall Street and the riots in Baltimore and Ferguson have proven that.

    Police shows do not portray reality? Well, then why did LAPD Chief Parker and FBI Director Hoover oversaw the TV shows Adam 12, Dragnet, and the FBI? Because they did not want the negative reality of what their organizations did to certain segments of the American society. They were only showing the positive stories of their organizations. Real con job they did on the white upper and middle class and now you have many white middle-class people finding out how bad their police departments really were since they were on the short end of police batons, pepper spray, and tear gas for exercising their political, social, and economic rights.

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    1. Gunther,

      I’m not really convinced you read my posts or maybe I’m not making myself clear enough to you. I say this because your replies do not ever really seem to address what my posts.

      One idea that I think would do you some good to meditate on is to realize that police officers are first and foremost, people. They are individuals. When your focus is on a system or a country you don’t do justice to a large group of individuals they don’t fit into the box you have placed them in. So I simply suggest you meditate on this idea.

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  11. Your replies don’t address my points and they never will. Cops as individuals? Well, why don’t you tell your fellow cops that the rest of us are individuals as well? You don’t do justice to people like Rev Couper, other police officers and people of the general public who are trying to make the police an impartial force instead of being a private corporate police force plus being racist, sexist, willing to use force to often, and being anti-labor, and anti-union despite the fact that many police officers have good pay and working conditions thanks to union. You also don’t do justice to the countries like Sweden who do a better job of recruiting, selecting, and training their cops compare to our police training plus your thinking that they don’t fit into your box of what think a police officer should be. You need to meditate on those things that I have said.

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    1. Respectfully Gunther, I’m not going to reply to you anymore. You have an anger towards me and others and act as if you know something about me. It’s pointless for me to respond anymore.

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  12. Ryan, you and your officers are the ones that have anger issues and you think you and your fellow officers act that you know about me and the rest of the population when you don’t when you are so isolated from the community you serve and from the rest of the world.

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    1. Gunther,

      It appears your anger prevents you from having a rational discussion with an opposing view. The reason I can know something about you is you have displayed your heart for all to see. You blanket cover all officers as evil. You don’t live in my community or know how I police but since I wasn’t convinced of an idea you are convinced of, I’m this evil person. That’s not way to argue your side. I had hoped for rational adult conversation previously but it is becoming clear that this is impossible with you. If you had ever hoped to truly change police you are going about it the wrong way by insulting every one of them without question as if they are not individual people. I pray the Lord will eventually open you up to loving more people and not having so much hate in your heart.

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      1. I have been very careful not to quell honest discussion and so it gets a little on edge from time to time. I want to say to those readers who comment that over the years (5) your input has been very helpful and contributes to the conversation. So let’s keep civility foremost — even when we tend to see and hear incivility in the public marketplace. We may disagree and have all kinds of pre-conceptions and stereotypes, but the purpose of my endeavor on this blog is to have open and honest (and sometimes passionate) discussions on ways we all can work together — police and citizens — to improve our police and system of justice. As my mother often told me, “Let us be kind, one to another.”

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    2. Gunther, I have been very careful not to quell honest discussion and so it gets a little on edge from time to time. I want to say your input for the most part has been very helpful and contributes to the conversation. So let’s keep civility foremost — even when we tend to see and hear incivility in the public marketplace. We may disagree and have all kinds of pre-conceptions and stereotypes, but the purpose of this blog is to have open and honest (and, yes, sometimes passionate) discussions on ways we all can work together — police and citizens — to improve our police and system of justice. As my mother often told me, “Let us be kind, one to another.”

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  13. I understand Chief, but I still don’t like it when cops like Ryan stated that I don’t know anything about him but at the same time, guys like him think that they know me or about the community where I live. We had discussions before on this website about cops not living in certain areas of the communities that they patrol; however, they seem to think they know all about the people in their area when they do not plus viewing certain groups of people as being evil if not sub-human. Remember the police radio transmissions during the Ferguson riots about the cops making derogatory remarks about the people they are supposedly serving and the aftermath of the riot where the Justice Department expose the Ferguson justice system where the population was viewed as nothing but a cash cow and the police did not stand up to City Hall to stop it but actually supporting it?

    In addition, there is still this on-going problem where due to the nature of police work, many cops tend to socialized with other cops off duty and not with people who work in other professions and who come from different ethnic, religious, racial and other backgrounds, That is not good at all for anyone.

    A lot of cops in places like Chicago, New York City, and Ferguson Missouri, need to have Jesus come into their hearts especially when it comes to showing compassion for the homeless, the mentally ill, and the poor.

    Thanks for trying to keep the website civil. You can’t say that about a lot of other websites.

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    1. Thanks for understanding and your thoughts, Gunther. Civility is an important value in a society such as ours. It permits us to exercise the values we say we hold. Thanks again.

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    2. When did I judge your community or say I knew anything about it? These are the kind of blanket statements that don’t allow us to come together. You on the other hand, have judge me with all cops. Even if you were correct that I judged your community or acted like I knew something about it(which you aren’t) why does that then give you the right to do the very thing you hate about cops back to them? I did in fact judge you based on your own statements. That’s why we need to be careful what we just throw out there. I apologize chief of you do not view this as civil. In my view, I’m not angry, cursing, or anything else like that. I’m simply pointing out some blatant hypocrisy and false accusations about myself. I do not claim to know everything about Gunther, only the thoughts he has freely given up. I have judge them on that basis. He however, has continued to judge me in light of the actions of other people because I wasn’t ready to say that shooting in the leg is a viable way of training. After the one time, the whole conversation has revolved around me defended myself against accusations that I’m something I’m not. If being civil means just accepting lies about me as truth, or agreeing to disagree about the lies then I guess count me out as civil. I’ve simply asked that Gunther start seeing people as individuals(truly getting to know a person and not just assuming you’ve got it all figured out).

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  14. Mr. Ryan, cops need to start judging people as indivdiuals. As i have stated that due to the nature of police work, it is almost impossible for cops to know about other people of diffeent backgrounds plus the problems of police officers actually living in certain areas that they work in. Community Oriented policing would help out because then the police could learn about the people they serve everyday face to face instead of dealing with them everytime they got a 911 call. Rev Coup had a put a story on this website about a SWAT unit that was instructed to clean up a high crime neighorhood but the unit failed every time they tried to do it, and compliants against them were at an all time high. Why did they failed? Well part of the problem was that they did not bother get to know the people and work to get them on their side. It wasn’t until the police department insert a couple of Community Oriented Police officers who went out and got to know the people as individuals plus getting support from City Hall and their own agency that the neighorhood was finally clean up and complaints against the SWAT team went down to zero.

    You made the statement on May 9, 2016 at 7:27 am that I don’t know about the community that you live in so I reply in kind that you don’t know anything about me or the community I live in. Enough said on that.

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    1. You assume I don’t already partake in community policing because your have already judged that you know me. This is the thing you keep ignoring. You get upset that I judge your community(which I have not) and not individuals. The you refuse to judge me as an individual but that’s acceptable to you because I’m a police officer. I’m just wondering why you allow the double standard and where you evidence is that community policing is not what I already actually do? Why excuse your own actions?

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    2. The difference is I didn’t claim to know about your or your community other than using your own comments. You blanket all officers together. If you can’t see the difference it’s only willful ignorance.

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  15. @ExBexarCop. If the American police have smart police officer, well I am not impress considering the fact that American police is still so backward compared to other police agencies.

    @ Ryan. No, Ryan, you are the one that is judging me and you are upset because you cops don’t anything about the communities that you patrol. You refuse to people as individuals and view everyone as a suspect and as being anti-police.

    “I’m just wondering why you allow the double standard and where you evidence is that community policing is not what I already actually do? Why excuse your own actions?”

    No those questions refer to you.

    “You blanket all officers together. If you can’t see the difference it’s only willful ignorance.”

    You don’t like being profiled? Now you know how minorities, liberals, unions, striking workers, and other groups being lump together by the police and police officer like you can’t see the difference and that is your own deliberate willful ignorance and/or willful denial. Furthermore, you cops have yourself to blame for being lump together because if the good cops and the unions had done their jobs properly, you wouldn’t be in the mess that you created in the first place and would have never happened in the first place.

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    1. @Gunther

      You are speaking from a place of anger, not from any informed opinion. I would caution you to stop just taking what you see in the media as fact. You could have asked me if your assertions were true instead of just stating them as if they were. They aren’t.

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  16. Wrong, Ryan. It is you that is speaking from a place of anger and ignorance. Unlike you, I don’t listen to the corporate-controlled media which has a habit of defending the police at all costs and they don’t deal with facts except twist them around to fit their theories or they don’t have any facts to back up with they say. My opinions and assertions unlike yours are based on political, social, and historical facts. You need to accept the fact that six large corporations control the media so I caution you with your outdated thinking that the media is a liberal one. It hasn’t been that way for the last 40 years.

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  17. No, Ryan, it is police officers like you that talk from a place of anger and insecurity. I don’t listen to corporate media because they don’t allow facts except when they twisted them to fit their own arguments i and I caution you and your fellow cops to stop watching Fox news because research has shown that people who watch Fox end up being dumber and stupider even more so.

    Why bother to asks you. You don’t listen let alone comprehend. Your assertions are never true at all BTW.

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