Forget TV and Movies; Police Trained to Shoot for
Meaghan M. McDermott
The Democrat & Chronicle
December 22, 2009
Police shooting a gun out of a suspect's hand or bringing down a suspect
with a well-aimed, non-fatal bullet to the leg is the stuff of
television and movie screens, say experts in police use of deadly force.
"If there's justification to pull the trigger, there's
justification to kill," said Thomas J. Aveni, executive director of the
Police Policy Studies Council, based in New Hampshire. "Shooting to
wound is a fantasy that might sell movie tickets, but has no basis in
Early Sunday, Greece police officers Joseph Hopper and Shaun Moore shot
at 62-year-old Paul Miller of 70 Ontario Blvd. near Second Street and
Braddocks Avenue after Miller refused to drop a handgun he was holding
and pointed the gun at Hopper and Moore.
Acting Greece police Chief Brian Uhrmacher has said the shooting appears
Police have not said in which part of his body Miller was shot, but
Brockport police Chief Dan Varrenti said officers are trained to aim for
the torso. He would not talk specifically about the shooting in Greece.
"When using deadly physical force, police are trained to stop the
immediate threat they're confronted with," said Varrenti, a criminal
justice instructor at state University College at Brockport and Monroe
Community College. "And the question is 'is your life in danger or the
life of someone else?' If yes, then you're authorized to use deadly
physical force and that is whatever force is necessary to stop the
threat, and you do that by shooting for center mass."
Aveni, who studies police use of deadly force, said Sunday's
shooting sounds like a "worst-case scenario" for police, who were
working in the dark trying to contain a distraught armed man as he
walked through a densely populated neighborhood.
He said the incident sounded like a clear case of "suicide by
cop," a subset of justifiable police homicides he calls "death by
"This seems like a very reasonable shooting," he said.
Monroe County District Attorney Mike Green said his office is waiting
for the police investigation into Miller's death to be completed before
deciding to go to a grand jury or not.
"Historically, we have tended to go to the grand jury in cases like this
— that's for the protection of the officers," said Green. "In the past,
we have tended to err to the side of putting these cases to a grand
jury, even when they may be clear-cut, even from my perspective."
The weekend incident began late Saturday, when Miller was arrested in
Clarkson and charged with a misdemeanor count of driving while
intoxicated. A Monroe County sheriff's deputy drove him home and walked
him to his door. Miller went into the house, then came back to the door
with a pistol. The deputy retreated, called for backup, and got Miller's
wife out of the house. As police were arriving, Miller came out of his
house carrying the gun and what appeared to be a dead cat. He walked
through the neighborhood with the gun to his head and ignored repeated
police demands to drop the weapon before turning it toward Hopper and
Moore, according to police.
On Monday morning, a small bunch of carnations wrapped in red cellophane
lay against a fence near where Miller was shot. Drops of his blood
remained in the roadway.
Moore and Hopper will likely be put on administrative leave pending an
internal investigation of the shooting. This is the second time Moore
has been involved in a shooting during his three years with Greece
police. On Nov. 21, 2008, Moore fired a single shot through the bedroom
window of a Nahant Road home and stopped Scott E. Burke from stabbing
his wife. That was the first police shooting in Greece in 30 years and
was deemed justified.
Other fatal confrontations
Patricia Thompson, 54, of Rochester was shot to death in her home by a
city police officer on March 3, 2006. Police said Thompson, who had a
history of mental instability, lunged at an officer with a knife.
Craig M. Evans, 34, of Webster was shot and wounded by a Webster police
officer June 6, 2005, after an alleged domestic dispute. Webster police
Chief Gerald Pickering said the shooting was self-defense.
Kevin King, 42, was shot to death in his Gates apartment by a Gates
police officer during a standoff May 24, 2005. Police thought King had a
.22-caliber shotgun, but it was a BB gun. A grand jury did not file
Willie Carter, 46, was shot to death by a city officer Aug. 15, 2002, in
his East Main Street home after he fatally stabbed his wife. Police said
he was advancing on one officer with two knives. Officers had attempted
to subdue Carter.
Craig Heard, 14, of Rochester was fatally shot by city police June 10,
2002, during an attempted traffic stop near Park Avenue. Police said
Heard was driving a stolen car and tried to drive into the officers.
John O'Meara, 49, of Henrietta was shot to death Feb. 12, 2002, by a
Monroe sheriff's deputy during a standoff on Calkins Road. Sheriff
Patrick O'Flynn said O'Meara fired at deputies, who returned fire.