October 8, 2006
Sept. 28 shooting in which two Wichita police officers
fired multiple shots at a man but hit him only once
makes perfect sense to Ed Nowicki.
"In fact, if they wouldn't have hit him at all, I would
understand it," said Nowicki, executive director of the
International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers
Association, speaking from professional and personal
Researchers and firearms trainers cite statistics
showing that officers miss more often than people might
think, even from short distances. Experts attribute that
largely to the stress of the moment -- something that's
hard to train for.
But bullets that don't hit their targets can hit
something else. A 9mm handgun bullet can travel several
hundred yards before falling to the ground if its path
the Wichita shooting -- in a residential neighborhood at
Eighth and Pershing -- two officers fired multiple shots
from several feet away at a 19-year-old who drew what
officers thought was a handgun out of his waistband,
Deputy Chief Tom Stolz said.
The man kept aiming the realistic replica gun at one
officer after being repeatedly commanded to drop it,
The man "never did drop the gun," Stolz said. And
because the officers felt in danger, he added, "they
fired shots until the threat subsided." The man suffered
a stomach wound but is expected to recover.
general, Stolz said, "you miss more than you hit."
resident of one nearby house told The Eagle that
investigators found two bullets from the shooting on his
roof, and a resident across the street said
investigators dislodged one bullet from a shutter on her
home. Neighbors said they heard that a third house was
struck, but that resident couldn't be contacted by The
Eagle. None wanted to be quoted for this story.
Neighbors reported hearing five to six shots but said
they couldn't be certain. Stolz declined to say how many
shots the officers fired because of the continuing
Stress hampers skill
"Generally speaking, officers are not very accurate"
during the stress of a shooting, despite training, said
Michael White, an assistant professor with John Jay
College of Criminal Justice in the City University of
"Generally speaking, hit rates do not hit 50 percent,"
said White, a former Pennsylvania sheriff's deputy.
Shooting a handgun accurately requires fine motor skill,
said Dan Lehr, one of the primary firearms instructors
with the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center in
Hutchinson. But in the adrenaline-pumping moments of a
shooting, he said, "fine motor skill disappears very
Instead of looking through gun sights and aiming as they
are trained to do, officers fix their eyes on the gun in
the suspect's hand, Lehr said. It's a natural reaction.
Although police in Kansas have to train with a firearm
to become certified and have to refresh their skills
periodically at a shooting range, Lehr said, "I think
the average citizen thinks all officers do is practice
shooting, and that's really not the way it is."
blames the perception partly on popular culture.
lot of people get the idea that we're trick shooters,"
he said. "They've seen it in the movies."
reality, most officers never shoot at suspects, and
using a gun is a small part of police work, Lehr and
"Most officers, they got into police work not to shoot
someone," Lehr said.
The suspect in the Wichita shooting -- Eric Manns -- has
been charged with aggravated assault on a law
enforcement officer, which accuses him of putting an
officer in fear for his life.
Based on how police
described the incident, "that was a very restrained
shooting there," said Tom Aveni, a New Hampshire-based
police trainer who has studied police shootings.
"I would characterize
that as being extremely reluctant to shoot," Aveni said.
is standard procedure, the officers involved have been
put on administrative leave and have not been identified
by the police department. Stolz said each of the
officers has several years of experience. He called them
Shooting fit the norm
The Wichita shooting -- with two officers firing
multiple rounds and hitting the man only once, even at
several feet away -- fits the norm, said Aveni, who
serves on the advisory board of Force Science Research
Center at Minnesota State University-Mankato.
Nationally, a little more than half of all shootings
occur within 9 feet of the intended target, he said.
Accuracy drops as distance increases. If the officers in
the Wichita shooting had been backing away when they
fired -- a common response -- that also could have
diminished their accuracy, Aveni said.
Stolz said the man was fairly stationary, but he did not
disclose whether the officers were moving.
Research shows that "even at two arms' lengths,
police are missing a lot," Aveni said. "It's that close
-- that's the nature of policing."
It's important, Aveni said, that training be as
realistic as possible, including, for example, having
officers move while shooting.
Wichita police have invited reporters to a shooting
simulation Monday at the Lake Afton firing range. Police
say it will give reporters an idea of how they train and
explain what police encounter in real shootings.
A scary experience
But no training can create the intense stress of a
shooting, Nowicki said.
felt the adrenaline surge three decades ago when he was
a Chicago narcotics detective.
was helping to serve a warrant. The instant he saw a
suspect raise a sawed-off shotgun at him, he fired his
Even with his police shotgun, even at only 5 feet,
Nowicki's round struck the suspect only through his
armpit. As with other officers across the country, he
had been trained to shoot at the upper torso to "stop
he had fired a handgun, he figures, he would have missed
Immediately after the shooting, he recalled, "I could
not stop shaking."
It's difficult, he said, to train for that -- to
replicate what it feels like to face a real sawed-off
shotgun, up close, and have to make a life-changing
decision in an instant.
"The reality," he said, "is something different."