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by Peter Moskos

March 30, 2017

Not how I was trained

I'm curious what cops think about this police-involved shooting in Portland, Oregon:
Hearst, a seven-year bureau member who became a police officer after graduating from Multnomah University's bible college, said he never saw Hayes with a gun, but was trained not to wait to see one. [emphasis added]

"Because if I let him get his hands on his gun, he will be able to pull that gun out and shoot me or my coworkers before I'm able to react to it."
To be clear, this was an armed robber who was shot. But he didn't have a gun. (His replica gun was nearby.) The "trained not to wait to see one" rubs me the wrong way. Thoughts?


Andy D said...

It sounds to me like what he was trying to say was that he shot in response to the "furtive" movement of his hands towards what he believed was where the suspect had a gun. Those types of shootings haven't been flying with the public lately but it is an odd turn of phrase.

Liberaltarian . . . said...

You've noted before the large difference in rates of officer involved killings between LEAs in different states. In particular, it seems eastern states, like Maryland, have much lower rates than western states, like Oregon. Maybe part of the explanation is how quickly officers are taught to shoot through training or culture in different agencies, states, and regions.

Peter Moskos said...

I saw more than one person make a quick movement toward their waste. Sometimes this was without thinking. At least once it was with the purpose of provoking me. (That's a silly for somebody to play and want to win. I shot none of them. I didn't see a threat. I hate to think of what would have happened had a shot all of them! I'm not saying wait till you see the bullet coming at you. But am I am saying, yes, wait a split second longer. (Especially if you're wrong about the person having a gun to reach for.)

The training issue is interesting. I don't know. But I don't *think* the basic concept of threat assessment is taught differently. But maybe it is, at some level.

Makes me think of this shooting in Gardena, California. Cops, reasonably or not, were too quick to shoot. http://www.copinthehood.com/2015/07/bad-shooting-in-gardena-california.html

Concerned citizen said...

"But am I am saying, yes, wait a split second longer"

I wish someone would perform a carefully designed and executed experiment whereby 100 randomly selected liberal arts professors are tested in a threat-perception environment in which they are shot with a Taser if they respond incorrectly when making split-second decisions.

Relating it to baseball: While I'm continually amazed at the competence of Major League umpires, nevertheless I'm also surprised how often instant replay indicates that their split-second decisions were incorrect when calling plays at the bases.

Respectfully submitted by someone who has voted for the Democratic candidate in the past 3 Presidential elections.

Concerned citizen said...

Prof. Moskos,
Re-reading my comment, I must apologize if it seems that my college professor remark was directed at you.
To the contrary, I have enormous respect for you, your unique background, and for the service that you provide by putting so much time, energy, and intelligence into this invaluable blog.

David Madden said...

I'm going to put this one in the too close to call category. Hearst had every reason to believe that Hayes had a gun on him. If he shot too soon, we're talking by about a second or two.
As to his comment about not waiting to see a gun, I think (hope) that he just misspoke. Thats not part of any training I know of. Shooting before an armed man gets the drop on you is.

Seventy2002 said...

The words rub the wrong way because they are taken out of context. Reading the grand jury testimony, makes it clear Officer Hearst had good reason to believe the suspect was armed. Furthermore, he communicated this to the suspect and told him what he would do.

The article omits testimony from another officer at the scene:

Q:What did you remember hearing Officer Hearst say specifically?
A: "We believe you have a gun. And if you reach for that gun, you will be shot."

MR. REES: Is that a command that the Portland Police Bureau trains officers to use?
THE WITNESS: It is. It is.

Andy D said...


Then it sounds pretty clear to me. The officer's action was completely in line with what he clearly told the suspect. His wording is still somewhat odd I think.

campbell said...

The "trained not to wait to see one" rubs me the wrong way

In this type of incident it's the right thing to do. This is not a ped stop for an infraction with a guy grabbing at his waistband, it's an armed robbery with a firearm. A witness has described him as having a firearm and if the suspect wants to go grabbing at things in those circumstances he should expect to get shot.

campbell said...

Or to put it another way, is this shoot really that different from Lavoy Finicum?

e said...

(note: this may be a double-post. Blogger's comment system is horrible if you're not using google and if anonymous comments are disabled)

I uploaded a .gif that shows why waiting to 'see the gun' can get you killed. https://giphy.com/gifs/xUPGcvylKDH8IQZY2Y

For those who don't want to click it shows a test where a man, seated as though in a car, draws and fires a gun from a position where it would be unviewable to a police officer at his window. The speed with which someone can do this will defeat any human's reaction time- because action beats reaction. Basic physiology. There is no chance to 'see the gun' and react in time before he fires.

Now, does that mean any cop can shoot any suspect? No. Reasonableness, as always, comes into play with force. What is the person suspected of? Are there articulated facts that would lead an observer to believe the suspect to be armed? What has the person said? What commands has the officer given?

But just as an example (based on the test in the .gif)- if you tell someone to show you their hands multiple times on a traffic stop, see a bunch of 'fight' indicators, then they reach down and grip a hidden object and start bringing it up... you're going to have to shoot before seeing the gun, get shot, or figure out a third option real fast.

Andy D said...


It is pretty much EXACTLY the same as Finicum's shooting, which I thought was pretty damn clean. I still think the wording is awkward.

What you say is true and it just depends on whether you actually get those other indicators. I have seen some shootings where the "reaching for it" thing doesn't work because the cop was so jumpy (like Trooper Groubert in SC at the gas station a few years ago) and I have seen shootings like the Finicum shooting where it seems like 100% the right choice to shoot. Just goes to show how hard it is to make these decisions in real time.

Joseph Dundee said...

Related: Are plainclothes cops more likely to be involved in "bad" shoots? https://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/04/14/us/baltimore-police-department-plainclothes.html?referer=https://www.google.com/

Marissa said...

I think that the "trained not to see one" is total crap. While I can see how the teenager plunging his hand towards his waist band would make someone think that he was reaching for a gun, without actually seeing the weapon, I don't believe there were grounds for the officer to fire his weapon. The officer could have waited a few seconds longer and this whole story would have a completely different outcome. I'm sure in the moment, this was an impulsive move on the officer's part, but with the proper training, the death of the teenager may have been prevented. I come from a long family history of law enforcement officers, and while I am not a law enforcement officer myself, I have never heard of such a thing as an officer being trained not to wait to see a weapon. In my opinion, this officer made a mistake. But law enforcement officers are people, too. We all make mistakes. It is unfortunate that this mistake cost a teenager his life, but who is to say that the same situation would not have happened to a law enforcement officer with the proper training?