In a new research paper published in Police Quarterly, University of Colorado Denver School of Public Affairs Assistant Professor Paul Taylor found officers can significantly improve shoot/no-shoot decisions by simply lowering the position of their firearm. In the study, Taylor looked at 313 active law enforcement officers in a randomized controlled experiment that incorporated a police firearms training simulator.
There were three different positions tested during the experiment:
Aiming: The sights of the gun were held in alignment with the officer’s visual gaze pointed at the projector screen and the index finger was to be off the trigger and resting along the slide of the training pistol.
High Ready Position: The gun was held at the level of the officer’s sternum and the index finger was to be off the trigger and resting along the slide of the training pistol.
Low Ready Position: The gun was held at the level of the officer’s navel and the index finger was to be off the trigger and resting along the slide of the training pistol.
After the experiment was complete, it was proven that when officers had firearms at a low ready position, they cut their chance of making misdiagnosis shooting errors by more than half and it only cost them 11/100th of a second. Taylor believes this small amount of time gives the officer a chance to check their swing, enabling them to reassess what they see.
“To put this into context, there is approximately .25 seconds between each trigger pull if an average officer is pulling a trigger as fast as possible,” said Taylor. “This means that for the cost of less than half a trigger pull in time, officers can dramatically improve their decision-making.”
Training Officers to Shoot from Low Ready Position Could Be a Key to Fewer Shooting Errors.
According to The Los Angeles Police Department, of the 211 shooting incidents reported by LAPD between 2013 and 2017, 14% of those were what they call “perception shootings.” A perception shooting is when a police officer believes the person in question presented a deadly threat in the moment, when in fact, the threat was proven non-existent in the end. Taylor hopes his research will lead to a lower the number of incidents by pointing out errors in training. Police officers are typically not trained to shoot from the low ready position, and training officers to assume this position could be part of the solution.
Positioning the firearm at a lower angle would also enable the officer to remain safe in unsafe situations. Taylor expresses the importance of resilience engineering, which is to reduce the complexity of the workplace and improve the likelihood for success and safety rather than errors and accidents.
In a study from earlier this year, Taylor examined the effects of dispatched information on the police decision to use deadly force and found that the accuracy of pre-event dispatch information police officers received had a significant impact on their subsequent shoot/no shoot decision-making. Taylor’s research continues to look at improvements police departments need to make to continue successful policing.