Don’t Shoot: A Few Suggestions for the 2016 National Police Shooting Championships
By CJ Hunt and Graham Cumberbatch
Last week, Albuquerque, New Mexico hosted an event that came and went with surprisingly little fanfare: the 2015 National Police Shooting Championships. Hosted by the National Rifle Association (NRA), the yearly competition attracts over 400 officers from police departments across the country to determine who among them is truly the best at shooting paper men with deadly weapons.
A highlight of the week is the Tactical Police Competition (TPC). The TPC gives officers practice using their duty firearms in a number of hypothetical policing scenarios. The competition prides itself on its “reality street preference” - an emphasis on challenging officers with training scenarios realistic enough to “bring the streets to the [shooting] range.”
Some critics view this shooting competition as a celebration of police militarization that is tone deaf to the national debate on excessive force. As such, protesters have dubbed it the “Killer Cop Competition.” We, however, haven’t given up on this event. Driven by our love of rebranding, we have spent hundreds of hours reviewing an extensive list of past shooting scenarios, and brainstorming five new challenges for next year’s contests. How does one make an NRA-sponsored competition with the words “police shooting” in its title seem relevant and responsive to the communities that police seek to protect? Perhaps we just need to embrace the TPC’s love of realism and inject the competition with the type of real-world encounters that police officers just can’t seem to avoid these days.
1.) PICNIC TABLE SHOOTER
The Tactical Police Competition already uses a training scenario called Double Zero Down to test an officer’s ability to identify threats. The officer must pick up a flashcard, and fire at whatever colored targets the card identifies as bad guys. What if we improved this event by introducing a more ambiguous shade of threat?
In this new scenario, you receive reports of a twelve-year-old African American male who is playing with what may or may not be a toy handgun. At the start signal, you must decide whether to defuse the situation by:
Strategy a: driving right up to the suspect, exiting the squad car, unholstering your duty weapon, and shooting him as quickly as possible. (Fastest time: 2 seconds, Officer Timothy Loehmann)
Strategy b: doing literally anything else.
2.) GOT YOUR BACK
As evident in the training scenario So...What’s in Your Wallet?, a good cop must always be ready to defend himself against a random onslaught of cop-hating criminals who storm his motel room. But how should an officer respond when besieged by the serious moral challenges of “doing his duty?”
In this new scenario, you are providing backup on a daytime traffic stop. You observe the lead officer become startled. In his panic, the officer shoots the suspect in the head. You saw no evidence of provocation or threat. At the start of this course, you must take a defensive position at the police station and support your fellow officer by:
Strategy a: Corroborating his fraudulent account of events in a police report which will surely be disproven by the very body cameras you are both wearing.
Strategy b: Telling the truth and holding your fellow officer accountable. This untraditional tactic makes it clear that you’d sooner be forced to re-watch Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 every day for the rest of your life than allow the safety and reputation of your entire department to be compromised by the bad apples in your ranks.
3.) RUN AWAY JUSTICE
Competitors in the scenario One-Handed Traffic Stop Fight must eliminate a suspect who suddenly gets out of the car and shoots the officer with a handgun. Next year, let’s challenge participants to respond to an even more perplexing scenario: a traffic stop in which the suspect doesn’t have a gun at all.
You are questioning an African American man about his broken tail light, when he exits the car and begins running for his life. When the start signal sounds, you must respond by:
4.) SOMETHING'S NOT RIGHT
Drunk Buddies is an existing training scenario in which an officer must defend herself against three approaching hooligans waving knives and yelling “kill the cops.” But how should an officer treat suspects who uses the malicious strategy of not announcing their exact intentions aloud?
Strategy a: Shooting the only target who poses a legitimate threat.
Strategy b: Shooting all the targets, using a neuralizer to wipe the memory of any witnesses, and chalking it all up as the cost of protecting the galaxy from non-human scum.
BONUS EVENT: TURNAROUND!
Sometimes the most important decisions in policing are not made in the field. In this scenario, you are the head of a prestigious national police shooting competition. Protestors and major police foundations alike confront you with mounting evidence of a serious flaw in police training culture. Evidence shows that a disproportionate focus on celebrating officers for the speed and accuracy of their trigger finger leaves them dangerously unprepared to defuse racially-charged confrontations without using deadly force. While planning next year’s competition, you address this shortcoming by deciding to:
Strategy a.) Supplement the competition with trainings around non-lethal deescalation, mistake-of-fact shootings, and implicit bias. You are hailed even by your critics as the first national shooting competition to reward its +400 police participants for not shooting. Your reputation as a killer cop competition flips into that of a killer cop prevention program - one that retrains our police to understand that great cops have exceptional marksmanship and a set of skills that allow them to defuse conflicts without ever having to reach for their gun.
KEEPING IT REAL
We hope that you - dear members of the NRA Police Shooting Championships - seriously consider our proposed additions to your 2016 Tactical Police Competition. We truly do believe in the potential of your event. We savor the creativity that goes into designing each shooting course. We applaud the way in which the scenarios subtly cultivate fear in police officers and remind them that they are soldiers under constant attack. Surely, it is that ceaseless fear that motivates our police to be their best selves. Most of all, we honor your commitment to reality-based police training.
In light of that, our final recommendation is a moderate one : upgrade the quality of your target dummies. You must already be aware that the officers who participate in your competition will never face a street-level adversary made of paper, metal, or balloons (god willing). How are these officers supposed to apply your invaluable training when they finally face a suspect made of flesh and bone? To fulfill your mission of realistically preparing your officers for the shooting challenges of the street, we strongly recommend that the targets for the 2016 Tactical Police Competition be replaced with actual human beings.
Why human beings? For the realism, of course. These new human-based targets will not be ‘gang members’ yelling “kill him.” Nor will they be bikers attacking the police station without warning, or basketball-loving, cop-hating, gunmen hunting down an officer in his squad car . Instead, these new targets will look like the community members our officers engage most frequently. Just a 22-year-old black male, driving home. This is the type of suspect that every officer in your competition will encounter in the course of duty this year. However, when that interaction happens in the real world, and this living breathing target reaches into his car’s glove compartment a little too quickly, your officers will have to make a new kind of decision. It won’t be a decision about the number of rounds to fire or how to shoot from a strange squatting position. Instead, it will be a decision they never had to make during your competition: whether deadly force is necessary at all. And if one of those officers is wrong; if they panic and resort to the only conflict-resolution tool that ever won them trophies, then we owe them to chance to experience what taking an unarmed life feels like before they leave the comfort of the shooting range. Isn’t that what reality-based training is all about?