What does Trigger Happy Really Mean?

(posted 8/18/2014)- When police use their side arm (pistols) the results will vary wildly depending on factors that include distance between shooter and target, sight-line, cover and visibility, relative motion etc.; but the most important variable will be the state of mind and training level of the officer.

I won't pretend to have any special insights into the tragedy that has enveloped the community around Ferguson, MO. I guess what I am reacting to is the certitude of so many folks that the cop murdered a young man out of malice of fore thought (eg. racist devaluation of human life).

How could a policeman shoot a man 6 times as he stood ten yards away in the open and not be a murderer? Let's build a totally hypothetical scenario and tell a story in which a particular cop responds to a perceived physical threat in an inappropriate way -- without premeditation being involved.

Scenario: A policeman stops two adult males -- an argument insues in which the officer and one of the men come into physical contact resulting in a blow being struck (officer is hit). Depending on the training and self confidence of the policeman and the officer's perception of whether he can disengage or must escalate a side-arm may be drawn.

When anyone points a weapon at another it is a threat of lethal force (this happened to me in one instance with a police officer pointing a weapon at me before we got things sorted verbally) - it can trigger impulsive responses. If the officer is struck again or the weapon is grabbed the situation will escalate to a life struggle unless the officer is extremely well trained or very confident.

Assume the officer has received a blow to the head and the person who hit the officer is now running away. The officer impulsively begins firing and after the first shot the victim stops and turns around (about 10 paces away). The poorly trained and 'stunned from a blow' officer continues pulling the trigger (producing a rising, left to right contact pattern on the victim - up the right arm, right chest, right eye). The victim collapses forward with the center top of skull receiving the last round.

Anyone who has fired a handgun rapidly knows that a sideways and rising pattern is common. A weapon can be emptied in less than 3 seconds! In our hypothetical example we see the barely targeted impulse firing of a panicked policeman, rather than a premeditated assassination.

I believe that trigger happy cops are often poorly trained men and women who once they begin firing their weapon tend to keep pulling the trigger rapidly until the weapon is empty.

What remedies come to mind? Provide smart weapons to all police that only fire when in the officer's hand to increase confidence that their weapon will not be turned against them (this technology is well beyond proof of concept and is being resisted vehemently by the NRA lobby). Additionally, spend more monies training officers to avoid confrontation and the use of side arms to project authority. Finally, demand officers protect themselves first by seeking cover rather than trying to outgun their opponent -- there appears to be too much the view that officers must dominate rather than resolve situations.

I hope Ferguson's politicians and community activists can agree on changes that help to end the deep seated mistrust between its law enforcement community and its citizenry. I believe at the least the officer involved in the shooting should not continue in law enforcement. I'll let a court determine if he was a murderer.

postscript- 9/13/2014: Subsequent information in the form of confirmed phone recordings (audio and video) of the shooting event have convinced this blogger beyond a reasonable doubt that officer Wilson was not shooting as described in the hypothetical case above. It appears that the officer was deliberately targeting an unarmed / surrendered individual. I expect the officer to be indicted on murder charges in the near future.