New policy recommends police officers fire 'warning shots' in serious situations

International Association of Chiefs of Police recommends return of warning shots

By Kevin Dietz - Reporter , Derick Hutchinson

TROY, Mich. - With police under fire for deadly use of force, a drastic new policy is being recommended: The return of the warning shot.

Local 4 Defender Kevin Dietz examined the controversial proposal and if it's a solution that can save lives.

Police officers are taught that if they fire their weapons, it's only for one reason: To kill bad guys. But now the International Association of Chiefs of Police is recommending police learn how to safely shoot warning shots to de-escalate serious situations.

At training day for Troy police, officers sworn to serve and protect citizens were on the practice range with their only mission being to hit the target.

If an officer decides to pull the trigger in a real-life situation, it's to kill dangerous criminals. They practice over and over to shoot for body mass, because they're taught only to shoot when deadly force is required.

But now there's a new way of thinking from the IACP. The organization is recommending police departments nationwide allow officers to use warning shots instead of shooting only to kill.

In his last message, IACP President Donald De Luca defined a warning shot as a "discharge of a firearm for the purpose of compelling compliance from an individual but not intended to cause physical injury."

De Luca added that a warning shot must be fired into a safe target and "must not pose a substantial risk of injury or death to the officers or others."

The idea behind a warning shot is to give police options other than shooting to kill, but local police officers said warning shots are a recipe for disaster.

"Firing a warning shot into the air is probably the worst idea ever," Troy police Officer Josh Jones said.

Jones said the number of scenarios in which a warning shot can backfire is frightening.

"To ask an officer to choose a safe location to fire a warning shot is a lot to put on even a highly trained officer," Jones said.

If an officer shoots into the air, a falling bullet could hit an innocent bystander.

"There have been cases where bullets have been fired into the air and come down a distance, a great distance, later and have struck and injured people," Jones said.

Even shooting into the ground can be dangerous.

"We don't know exactly what is in the ground," Jones said. "Is there a stone? A rock? Am I shooting on pavement? On concrete? All those circumstances are going to determine if the bullet deflects."

Shooting at the ceiling could pose a threat to somebody above.

"If you fire up into the air in drywall, you don't know exactly what penetration the bullet is going to have," Jones said. "Is there something or somebody that is upstairs? If you fire into the ground inside, you don't know what is below. What's in the foundation? A basement? A crawlspace?"

What happens if a police officer shoots a warning shot and other officers think it's a criminal shooting?

"In a dangerous situation, (if) an officer chooses to fire a warning shot, likely there are going to be other officers around," Jones said. "They are going to be responding to the scene."

It could also prompt an armed criminal to shoot back if it appears police are shooting at them.

"Maybe they will give up, or they may fight back, and a subject that may not have intended to actually fire at police officers would be induced to fire on the officer," Jones said.

Each department will decide if it wants to follow the IACP recommendation to add warning shots to their policy, but the city of Troy said it will not.

"Troy is densely populated," Jones said. "Warning shots for our city would not be something we would look to implement in a policy."

Troy police will continue training officers to shoot to kill, not to miss.

Anyone who has strong feelings about warning shots one way or the other is asked to call the law enforcement agency responsible for their area.

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