Police Warning Shots May Make a Comeback

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Why don’t the police fire warning shots? The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and 10 other law enforcement groups got together to work out a consensus policy on the use of force, and it allowed for warning shots. For police trainers and use of force experts, that news is still sinking in, reports NPR. “The idea of warning shots has been prohibited for decades in policing,” says Lou Hayes Jr., a trainer with the Virtus Group Inc. “And to now open the door up again is pretty eye-opening.” There’s never been a binding national rule against warning shots, but the IACP used to recommend that departments ban them. Leading agencies such as the New York Police Department have long had such bans.

The main concern is the risk. “When you raise the gun and blindly fire, you don’t know where that bullet will land,” says Massad Ayoob, a respected firearms trainer. “A few decades ago I followed a case in New England where the guy raised his gun, fired what he thought was into the air, and the bullet struck and killed someone on the top floor porch of a nearby tenement building.” He adds, “Movies show people firing a shot in the air and the running man stops. And that just ain’t how it happens in real life.” Often, the gunshots just persuade a suspect to run faster. Ayoob says fear of mishaps drove warning shots out of policing by the time he started as a cop in the 1970s. But now it may be making a comeback. The IACP’s Terry Cunningham said the “consensus” group was struck by the anecdotes of situations in which warning shots saved a life, or might have, had they been allowed.


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