Force Science Research Center
Force Science News #26
September 8, 2005
Out On New IACP Suicide
What are your thoughts?
Counter-terrorism expert Robert Bunker, PhD, won't take questions
about the provocative recommendations he wrote for 2 recent publications
from the International Assn. of Chiefs of Police about would-be
suicide/homicide bombers and how police officers can best preemptively
Through an assistant, he declined to address inquiries from Force
Science News, so we were unable to discuss with him the operational
challenges and seemingly no-win dilemmas posed by some of his
As described in detail in Part 1 of
this series, Bunker's core advice, delivered across two IACP
Training Keys, encourages officers to shoot to kill suspected bomb
carriers with rounds to the head. According to Bunker, this deadly force
would be justifiable under "Federal laws and rulings" if you have a
reasonable belief that a suspect is simply capable of detonating a bomb,
without needing to wait for him or her to actually make a move or take
"other action potentially sufficient to carry out the bombing." The
reports include a "Suicide Bomber Profile" to help officers identify
The full IACP reports can
be accessed online:
For IACP Training Key #581 -
Suicide Bombers, Part One visit
For IACP Training Key #582 -
Suicide Bombers, Part Two, visit
The tactical and decision-making guidelines, along with other
elements of Bunker's presentation, have profound implications for law
officers, supervisors, trainers and administrators and for the
communities they serve, according to police use-of-force experts
consulted by Force Science News.
While commending the IACP for engaging a tough, complex topic before
American law enforcement has yet had to deal with it face-to-face, the
experts express concern that some of the recommendations set impossible
skill standards for most street personnel, that they raise thornier
legal questions and training dichotomies than the reports suggest, and
that they call for operational policies and practices that may well
strain the always dicey police-society relationship in dramatic new
As one expert told us, "The drastic actions recommended would change
the police mind-set about potentially lethal confrontations and may have
unforeseen and unintended consequences."
Force Science wants to know what you think
The Force Science Research Center at Minnesota State
University-Mankato wants to hear your reactions to the issues raised by
the IACP documents and the experts' opinions.
As an LE professional, do you feel these guidelines will be
adopted by your agency?
Will they be followed on the street?
Will your community accept them…as well as the errors of
judgment they may lead to?
What might be better, if anything? Or are these simply the stark
reality that law enforcers and civilians alike need to confront
before the first suicide bomber explodes a payload here?
Send your thoughts to:
Meanwhile, here are reactions to Bunker's guidelines and
recommendations from prominent use-of-force authorities.
THOMAS AVENI--nationally known firearms instructor, frequent
expert witness in police liability litigation, member of FSRC's National
Advisory Board and researcher, trainer and consultant for the Police
Policy Studies Council:
"If we accept the premise that Middle East-style suicide bombings are
about to debut here and that the way we currently police our streets is
likely to be exploited by our enemies," then some drastic changes
undoubtedly are warranted. But the recommendations are "fraught with
complexities and perils that may be unforeseen and cannot be
understated," Aveni fears."
"When we start instructing police to profile people for head shots,
we're in a whole new world"--one that will require "altering the police
mind-set" to encompass "adversaries who are soldiers in a war, as
opposed to simply criminals. This is a major departure from the present
Heavily burdened trainers "will have to interpret vast gray areas
embedded in these guidelines, and then determine how to negotiate the
conflict between traditional deadly force policies and practice" and
what the suicide-bomber realities are said to call for.
For example, Bunker points out that traditionally trained center-mass
shots may actually detonate a bomber's explosives or may merely inflict
nonfatal wounds, allowing the bombing mission to proceed. A head shot is
the only reliable placement for instant de-animation.
Aveni agrees. "But I've trained thousands of cops, and I don't think
most have the skill to deliver a head shot" from a distance, especially
with a handgun, which may be the only weapon immediately available in an
"The human skull is a fortified pillbox, mounted on a swivel, the
neck," Aveni says. "The head can move up and down and side-to-side
freely and quickly when a threat is perceived." (Indeed, according to
Executive Director Dr. Bill Lewinski, the Force Science Research Center
has documented that an unrestrained subject can move his head sideways 6
to 10 inches in as little as 1/10th of a second-"faster than a rifle
bullet can travel 200 yards and faster than any officer could possibly
"Consequently," Aveni says, "with a handgun, the most reliable means
of effecting the recommended nasal-cavity shots, ear-canal shots or
brain-stem shots is with the subject literally pinned down and
immobilized by the officer. So much for 'stand-off distances!'"
When a suspect is driving a vehicle, with a potentially far
higher-capacity payload than an individual could pack personally, the
Training Keys recommend that officers keep a "minimum safety distance
[of] 660 feet in all directions." (No 'stand-off distance' is
recommended for bombers on foot.)
"This is roughly twice the distance that police precision
riflemen--snipers--generally train for, and they are usually equipped
with 12-16X scopes on precision .308 rifles," Aveni explains. "In other
words, only a mere handful of specially trained, exceptionally
high-skilled police could even hope to successfully engage a threat at
In order to detect the various situational, physical and behavioral
cues Bunker itemizes in his Suicide Bomber Profile, "an officer would
have to be in close proximity to a suspect," Aveni points out, "adding
to the tactical dilemma."
Moreover, the profile Bunker describes may lead to serious
repercussions if an officer relies on it for deciding to use deadly
"The Training Keys suggest that a threat doesn't need to be imminent
to warrant deadly force, only that its use be objectively reasonable,"
Aveni explains. "But if 'objective reasonableness' is predicated
primarily on the rather broad, imprecise 'profile,' there's a
substantial probability that someone other than a suicide bomber will be
shot here as has already happened in London.
"And if mistakes in judgment are made, given the Keys'
'shoot-to-kill' recommendation, they aren't likely to be mitigated with
sophisticated medical care."
Trainers, Aveni believes, "are going to be faced with a precarious
dichotomy-needing to teach traditional use-of-force decision making
versus a really radical departure for suspects fitting a suicide-bomber
profile. This is uncharted territory. In an actual shooting, will things
that seemed 'reasonable' in the moment be considered reasonable later?"
Essentially, he asserts, the IACP publications seem to be saying "if
you reasonably believe there's a threat, assassinate the guy. This will
be a very, very difficult decision for a beat cop."
Already law enforcement is coping with controversial and divisive
"mistake-of-fact" shootings in criminal encounters. "Such shootings
could rise substantially if these new protocols are implemented," Aveni
predicts, "and a disproportionate number of unarmed ethnic minorities
are likely to be the casualties. We already know how volatile this can
"Police discretionary powers have been eroding in recent years. Yet
there's a tremendous amount of discretionary latitude--not to mention
enormous performance expectation--inherent in [Bunker's
recommendations]. It's unreasonable to expect agencies to have the
wherewithal to try to train all their officers to the level this
dramatic policy shift would require.
"It might be more prudent to train only your brightest and most
capable officers and assign them to patrol your likeliest terrorist
targets. But of course the Catch-22 to that approach is the high
probability that untrained officers will be the ones who first encounter
a guy with a bomb belt."
WILLIAM EVERETT--prominent use-of-force trainer, an executive
risk-and-litigation manager for an entity insuring hundreds of
government agencies, and a member of FSRC's National Advisory Board:
Bunker's recommendations constitute "new and radical concepts for the
police, the courts, the public and the people on juries judging police
actions. The guidelines look like a war plan trying to be fitted into a
civil jurisprudence system. They ask people to say, 'We know that the
police are now involved as gun-carrying soldiers in a war on terrorism
and these are the rules for the war…but we're still thinking of them as
our friendly police department.'
"Is the change necessary? Yes. Can we get there easily and without
"[Bunker's] propositions are not irrational but they're so radically
different, it's hard to know how we'll react legally or societally if
they are adopted."
As an attorney and force trainer, Everett zeros in on Bunker's
"premise that under federal law cops are authorized to shoot to kill
when they have reasonable basis to believe a person is carrying a bomb"
and the implication that characteristics listed in the Suicide Bomber
Profile could be a foundation for that reasonable belief.
Everett points out that his state--probably like others--requires a
higher standard (probable cause) to believe a suspect will cause death
or great bodily harm to others before the use of deadly force is
justified. "States are free to create more restrictive rules than the
Federal standard," he warns. "If you're thinking of adopting [Bunker's]
guidelines as an administrator, I'd make sure that your prosecutor knows
about it and that it is compatible with the laws of your jurisdiction."
Making a deadly force decision on the basis of the bomber profile in
lieu of an identified threatening action seems to him a slippery slope.
"Doing so, you take a position that here's what a terrorist with a bomb
may very well look like and because a suicide bomber is so dangerous to
so many people, you don't need the same degree of certainty you need for
other deadly force transactions.
"If you shoot someone who exhibits 5 or 7 characteristics of a
terrorist with a bomb, let's say, the success of your decision is going
to be determined when you strip away his shirt and find a bomb--or you
just find chest hair."
A different standard for reacting to potential suicide bombers may be
realistic, Everett concedes, given the risk of letting a suspect go with
a bomb that could kill a hundred people. "But look at the [mistaken
assessment] incident in London and see how a wrong call can rock a
nation and bring into question how the police ought to be doing
business. People today don't have a lot of tolerance for mistaken
application of force that results in human death.
"I think society and the court system are going to expect a fair
amount of documented training of officers regarding the characteristics
of terrorists if cops are going to make split-second, life-and-death
decisions based on those characteristics. More guidance and training
needs to be developed not only in recognizing but in interpreting these
characteristics to better distinguish those who exhibit some of the
characteristics and are a threat versus those who have them but aren't a
He points out the irony that currently we can't apply a reasonable
terrorist profile at our airports to determine who gets searched, yet
Bunker proposes a profile that would guide officers in making
Everett predicts that departments that "view themselves as likely to
deal with terrorist bombers in the future are probably going to be
putting resources into making [Bunker's recommendations] operational
through training. Departments that need to be on this cutting edge will
tool themselves up to get there and discharge the job very responsibly.
Agencies that don't perceive themselves at risk are going to consider
all this largely irrelevant. I don't see it spreading across the country
like Asp batons and Tasers.
"For the guidelines to be successfully operational, though,
individual officers are going to have to feel morally satisfied--not
just legally satisfied--that they have correctly identified a threat
before they shoot to kill. Until they've been trained to a high level of
confidence to sort out threats from nonthreats, there's bound to be a
high degree of hesitation."
Everett praises the IACP's reports for provoking discussion of where
we should see the police in fighting terrorists domestically. "There are
shortcomings and there are no-wins" in Bunker's recommendations, he
says. "But they should stir the passing, the imagination and the
creativity to ask and answer, 'How do we do better than this?'"
JEFF CHUDWIN--Chief of Olympia Fields (IL) P.D., president of the
Illinois Tactical Officers Assn., a former prosecutor and a widely
respected firearms and use-of-force instructor:
Philosophically, Chudwin does not see the IACP reports as much more
than "simply a re-statement of everything we've known" about
suicide/homicide bomber response.
"In every state, police unquestionably have lawful justification to
use deadly force to prevent the murder of others by an offender. The
highest imperative in law enforcement is to stop murder, and if an
officer observes or has reason to believe that a person is about to
commit murder or is in the process of doing so, the officer is justified
in using deadly force to stop the threat. Every department policy I am
aware of allows this. Otherwise, why would we be armed?
"As a matter of principle, it's better that all suicide bombers die
before they can detonate their explosives. They have to be stopped. The
result of a failed response or a lack of response is likely to be mass
The problems lie with making Bunker's key recommendations
operational. "In practice, it's not so simple on the street," Chudwin
Dealing successfully with any deadly threat, he explains, requires
"the right officer in the right place at the right time with the right
equipment, the right training and the right mind-set." And therein lies
the rub when it comes to suicide bombers.
Like Aveni, he's convinced from experience that "the vast majority of
police officers have neither the training nor capability" to accomplish
proper head shots.
He suggests this as a test for yourself and fellow officers: Using a
6-in. paper plate to simulate the head, first fire from a stationary
position and then add some movement, shooting from variable distances.
Hit the center 4-in. portion. His officers practice this "at distances
up to 15 yards and due to constant drilling have good success," even
with handguns (though results clearly illustrate the superiority of the
rifle). "Take an officer not trained in this and you will see a very
It's well established that the handgun is not the preferred weapon in
a gunfight, especially if head shots are required. Emergency room
doctors have estimated to Chudwin that handgun rounds to the head are
"effective" (i.e., immediately incapacitating) only about half the time,
"due to lack of penetration to the cranial vault. There must be an
immediate shutdown of the central nervous system, and the only means of
achieving this with equipment available to police is through the
destruction of the brain."
With cranial-vault penetration, rifle rounds come close to being 100%
effective, and Chudwin believes every patrol officer should have an
accurate center-fire long gun immediately accessible in his or her
patrol car and be capable of "surgically delivering gunfire to the
head." Of course, many do not have this equipment or training, despite
the fact that rifles are available to departments for less than $40
apiece through federally funded programs. "There are police
administrators who have not equipped and trained their officers to
defeat this kind of threat, and the time to do it is now to be ahead of
the curve," he says.
If you are already within close range of the would-be bomber and you
have only a handgun, your best tactical option may be to move into the
threat and make close-range or contact head shots to immediately stop
the offender, Chudwin believes, even though closing distance makes you
more vulnerable to the effects of any explosion.
The most difficult street problem will be identifying who must be
stopped by use of deadly force, Chudwin says. From their traditional
training, officers will want to issue a verbal challenge, engage in
dialog or otherwise probe for more information to reassure themselves of
the suspect's dangerous status, but this can be counter-productive when
distance and time are of the essence. "Just making an approach to a
suspect may trigger the response you are trying to avoid or defeat," he
says. Even with a simple, unequivocal command like "Do not move!," the
offender can take action faster than an officer can react and "in the
absence of a proactive use of force, you lose."
If a mistake in judgment is made and a subject who turns out not to
be a bomber is killed, timing will determine the consequences, Chudwin
predicts. "If those officers in London had shot the unarmed suspect
before the bombs had gone off in the subways, those officers might have
ended up charged with unlawful homicide.
"As our society feels a greater danger, it will demand more from its
law enforcement officers. Most often, we do not control events around
us, we can only control our response to them. As administrators,
trainers and street officers, we have to be process oriented, not ending
oriented. Regardless of our best efforts and intentions, we cannot
always achieve a good ending. If our process has integrity, is lawful
and is within policy and we are true to the process, we can stand by
what happens, no matter the ending.
"Whether the demands of society for increased protection will also
allow for forgiveness when terrible mistakes occur, only time will
He urges his fellow LE executives to train their troops meaningfully
for what he sees as a new reality. The world of the suicide bomber "is
not the world I anticipated being chief of police in, it's not a duty I
thought I would be called for," he says. "But here I am, and I stand
ready to respond and fulfill that duty."