Police Chiefs Add Warning Shots In Use Of Force Policy, And Patrol Officers Will Pay The Price

Police departments may start adopting policies which allow police to execute warning shots.

Police departments may start adopting policies which allow police to execute warning shots.

Warning Shots Added To Use of Force Guidelines

UPDATE 10/05: ClickOnDetroit is reporting that the warning shot policy is being pushed, and Troy Police Department is rejecting it for the awful idea it is.

America’s law enforcement leadership groups have created new bizarre policy guidelines on warning shots, and patrol officers may end up paying the price.

The International Association of Chiefs of Police met last fall with ten other law enforcement organizations to create a National Consensus Policy On Use Of Force. The document is used as a template for use of force policies across the nation.

Martin Kaste with NPR pointed out that the new guidelines allow for the use of warning shots. It’s fair to say that we were shocked.

Warning shots have been prohibited by police department policies for decades, and for good reason. The idea of a warning shot is an awful idea.

Warning Shots: A Flawed Concept

A warning shot is the discharge of a firearm for the purpose of compelling compliance from an individual, but not intended to cause physical injury. The idea is that the sound of a gunshot will coerce a suspect into immediately surrendering.

Massad Ayoob, a well-known expert firearms instructor, disagrees. “Movies show people firing a shot in the air and the running man stops,” Ayoob says. “And that just ain’t how it happens in real life.”

When you shoot at people, they generally start running faster.

The idea behind the warning shot isn’t the only flaw here. The actual execution of a warning shot is dangerous and foolish.

Physics, How Do They Work?

If an officer fires into the air, that bullet is coming back down, and somebody may get killed on its return to Earth. Firing into the ground is also dangerous. If the bullet strikes a hard object in the ground, like a rock, that bullet can ricochet back out.

It’s likely for these reasons that the new policy guidelines on warning shots state that the warning shot must have a defined target.  However, this creates its own problem. In order to shoot at a defined target, other than the suspect, the officer must take their eyes off of the suspect. In a deadly force situation, this is madness.

Unfortunately, it gets worse. The policy guidelines also state that a warning shot may only be used if deadly force is justified. To understand why this is a problem, you must understand when police officers are allowed to use deadly force.

When Deadly Force Is Justified, And Why Warning Shots And Deadly Force Don’t Mix

Officers are allowed to use deadly force under two circumstances:

1. To protect the officer or others from what is reasonably believed to be an immediate threat of death or serious bodily injury.

2. To prevent the escape of a fleeing subject when the officer has probable cause to believe that the person has committed, or intends to commit a felony involving serious bodily injury or death, and the officer reasonably believes that there is an imminent risk of serious bodily injury or death to the officer or another if the subject is not immediately apprehended. Officers shooting fleeing suspects must, when feasible, provide a verbal warning to the suspect that they are a law enforcement officer and that they intend to shoot.

The first circumstance is the most common. Officers, or another person, must be under an immediate threat of being killed. The word “immediate” means: at that exact moment in time; not in five seconds, not in 5 milliseconds, it means right then.

I would think that any law enforcement professional would know that it is not possible to utilize a warning shot when an officer or somebody else is under an immediate threat of being killed. Any delay would be reasonably likely to result in death. In other words, it’s a really awful idea.

I am going to assume that there isn’t any law enforcement leader who is so far gone that they actually think that this is a good idea, which leads me to believe the policy was created solely for using deadly force against fleeing suspects.

The second circumstance that allows officers to use deadly force involves shooting fleeing suspects. Yes, given the right circumstances, officers can legally shoot people in the back when they are running away (See: Tennessee v Garner.)

The standard for shooting a fleeing suspect requires that officers already provide a warning, if feasible, before shooting. If a verbal warning is not feasible, then warning shots are unlikely to be feasible either. If a verbal warning is given, then officers are utilizing a safe method of advising suspects that they are about to be justifiably killed.

Why The Change?

Besides just being an all-around bad idea, the real question that comes up here is: why? Why would this policy be changed? The excuse of giving officers an extra tool in their toolbelt is nonsense. Tools are useless if they are broken.

The only people getting a useful tool here are the people within the anti-police crowd who will have something else to unjustly criticize officers for.

If departments implement policies which allow for warning shots, then any time an officer is forced to shoot somebody in defense of life, they are going to be forced to defend the decision not to use a warning shot. Warning shots are inherently unreasonable, so it would be safe to assume that only an unreasonable person would ask an officer why they didn’t use a warning shot. Unfortunately, it’s bound to happen, and police officers are going to pay the price.

  • Remo_5_0

    I would love to see what departments actually adopt this stupid policy! There is a reason that there is no longer such things as a warning shot, this must be fake news.

  • Rodney Sverko

    fake news, we killed a juv. suspect by a warning shot into pavement which ended up killed the suspect when bullet hit him in back…….I did it several times in 60’s, but most of time suspect ran faster, fake news?????

  • unpundit

    I have an idea…
    Instead of actually reading the article, and checking the links, let’s all just scream “fake news!” like a bunch of morons.


    • Remo_5_0

      I read the article, I just can’t believe it, my “fake news” was tongue in cheek. Relax Francis

  • hardresetamericadotcom

    Highly doubt this is accurate. If it is, no city, county or state attorney / legal dept. would allow it to be implemented. Then again, San Francisco is a thing.

  • Nova Mastrogiovanni

    stupid idea from the get-go …..You only shoot when your life is in danger, so while you are firing the warning shot, the criminal is killing you!!!!!

  • posidous

    If this is real then the “officials” need OJT, in live fire situations. They being the ones who fire the warning shot!

  • Bob Zahradka

    Is the IACP taking Joe Bidens advice seriously? Makes one wonder.

  • Scott Sanchez

    Bad idea.

  • Brownknight

    disagree with most posters here. My old agency has a policy and had two incidents, that I know of.
    Both stopped the suspects. In civillian encounters, historically, when a
    warning shot is fired, 80% of the time the aggression is ended and so is
    the incident. I had the option to shoot a robbery suspect in the back
    during a foot pursuit. Last robbery he did was with a handgun. He just
    burglarized a home. No gun seen, but he was running toward the door of
    an occupied home. There was no catching up. I fired my rifle in the dirt and yelled to him the
    next shot would kill him. Hands up and down on the ground he went. Not
    saying it is for everyone, but why ban a useful tool, if implemented
    properly. Are you telling me you would not know how to implement a safely fired warning shot? You are all smarter than this. Inner city may be a bad place for this because of concrete
    and hard surface everywhere, and shooting into the air is just reckless.

    • kenneth wise

      Not worth a response

    • PScottM

      Very well said. Thank you for the considered response and decorum.

    • hardresetamericadotcom

      Lemme guess, the senior DI at your academy was TJ Hooker.

      • Brownknight

        No, but I did the job for 31 years, admittedly starting well before Hooker. I spent 12 years on an award winning tactical team, range instructor, narcotics task force, major crimes for 11 years, involved in two other shootouts and am still here,..12 years retired.. sometimes putting up with smart-ass comments by people that actually think they have all the answers. Let me ask why you would take something that can be used as a tool, and not keep it. There should not be any doubt about how to employ it, so policy and training should be involved. But,….it makes me wonder, if one is not smart enough on “how” to safely discharge a warning shot, mayby one should not carry.

  • Brad Hays

    Dump Dumb -That stray bullet from a warning shot has to be accounted for, if not you are only exposing the Officer and Department to future liabilities from unknown third parties. It is far far better to account for your bullet when removed from the corpse by the Medical Examiner.

  • ShanLiCaz

    So, you’re on the range training/practicing and the baffles are getting shredded b/c of all the warning shots you are firing. And the RSO has to keep jumping for cover from all the rounds skipping off the apron. But hey, you gotta train the way you fight.

  • Walt Young

    Bomebody needs to tell the IACP that Hillary lost.

    • KLC

      Don’t expect that Trump will have your back. Remember his spokeswoman told NFL to protest the police rather than kneel at the National Anthem. That was ‘helpful’

  • LegalBeagle

    It is stupid beyond measure, but real. There MAY be times when a warning shot is not a complete fail, but they are very rare and I would not advocate it as a sound practice for anyone.

  • Bud

    Criminal negligence if someone is hit by the projectile when it comes down, and we all know what goes up comes down. Most departments outlawed it 30 or 40 years ago. I suspect some lame brain politician such as a mayor is behind this stupidity!

  • Rich Schur

    Shoot bad guy #1.
    That’s a warning shot for bad guy #2.
    Problem solved.

    • Russ Hamilton


  • KLC

    Do departments actually implement these guidelines? Do they have a choice?

  • TedStyle

    Yeah just go ahead and put a couple warning shots directly in the air, that won’t be a problem