Jim Palmer: Why police don’t shoot at arm or leg of threatening person

The loss of life is always a traumatizing event for those involved, their families and a caring community.

The officer-involved shootings in Madison that have occurred this year have understandably garnered a tremendous amount of attention and prompted a discussion about what should constitute an appropriate use of force.

It is important to appreciate that when an officer is forced to discharge his or her weapon, it is a split-second decision of last resort, made in the interest of protecting the public, as well as other responding officers. Life is extraordinarily precious, and officers of the law have no less appreciation of life than those whom they have sworn to protect.

Every day an officer wakes up and goes to work with the motivation to protect the community and its families. There is no greater calling. Madison police officers take great pride in their professionalism and have been cited many times for their high standards.

Like any unfortunate situation, however, we openly embrace any opportunity to learn and grow.

Police work is hazardous and occasionally life threatening. Officers have families, too, and have every hope that at the end of their shift they’ll be reunited with their loved ones.

A recent report by the Office of Justice Assistance found approximately 370 Wisconsin officers were assaulted and injured in the line of duty last year, representing a 17 percent increase over the year before. Because this is dangerous work, police training is critical to our officers’ personal survival and ability to protect others.

We hear and read citizen comments from those who wonder aloud about possible alternatives to a shooting strategy that may result in a fatality, such as shooting someone in the leg, for example.

To be clear, officers are trained to end the threats they confront as quickly and effectively as possible to reduce the dangers they pose to all those around them. Endless studies have found that when forced to make an instantaneous decision about discharging a firearm in the name of protecting those in imminent danger, it is highly ineffective to shoot at a rapidly moving and small extremity — such as an arm or leg.

Police are trained to quickly and successfully end the threat. They do not take chances when it comes to protecting the community or each other from potentially dangerous people.

The men and women of the Madison Police Department are committed to one thing — protecting this community each and every day they put on the uniform. Like you, they too want this community to be safe for all of us.

We appreciate that more people are engaged in a discussion about how law enforcement can best protect our residents. But rest assured, officers don’t shoot with the intent to kill. They shoot so we can all live safely in this city we share and love.

Palmer is executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association.


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