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Thread: Do police fire warning shots?

  1. #1
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    Do police fire warning shots?

    Or not so much.

  2. #2
    Delerium ex Ennui Xelebes's Avatar
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    I'm thinking they wouldn't. They have to account for the trajectory of that warning shot.

  3. #3
    Never, in most jurisdictions. it's against procedure.

    I just looked it up, to edit this. I thought never, no way, but there are jurisdiction where they can. If you're setting your story in a real place, call them and ask.


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    Only in the movies.

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    Mental toss flycoon JimmyB27's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cliffhanger View Post
    Only in the movies.
    Even in films, they generally have a megaphone, rather than a warning shot.
    "This is the police. You are surrounded. Lay your weapons down and come out of the building with your hands where we can see them."
    Probably more effective too.
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  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by JimmyB27 View Post
    Even in films, they generally have a megaphone, rather than a warning shot.
    "This is the police. You are surrounded. Lay your weapons down and come out of the building with your hands where we can see them."
    Probably more effective too.

    I meant more in the sense that someone is approaching, say with a knife, from a distance (a dozen or so meters), and they tell they guy to stop or they'll shoot. The guy doesn't stop so they fire a warning shot to show they're serious. No?

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Mustafa View Post
    I meant more in the sense that someone is approaching, say with a knife, from a distance (a dozen or so meters), and they tell they guy to stop or they'll shoot. The guy doesn't stop so they fire a warning shot to show they're serious. No?
    No. If you tell him to stop and the guy keeps coming, you'd be surprised how much ground a crazy person can cover in one second, and even after you shoot him, a person with a knife can keep coming, even if he dies of his wounds afterwards. People have taken many rounds and still charged a cop with a knife. So by the time someone with a knife is within rushing distance, it's already serious. Cops don't point their guns unless they intend to shoot if the suspect does not stop/retreat/drop the weapon.

    It's not inconceivable that a cop who really, really doesn't want to shoot someone might violate procedure, but it's a good way to get killed, and he or she would certainly be raked over the coals in the subsequent investigation if it emerges that s/he "fired a warning shot."

  8. #8
    Professor of applied misanthropy Drachen Jager's Avatar
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    Warning shots have a chance of killing bystanders. In the air, it must come down somewhere, at the ground it can ricochet. I was taught (army) to shoot only for the centre of visible body mass.

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    Thick skin:Check. Published book:? Forlorn Radiance's Avatar
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    I'm in the Navy, not police, so take my advice for what it is worth.

    Where I work, warning shots are only authorized with crew serve weapons and rifles. We would never shoot a warning shot with an M9.

    Deadly Force is only authorized when the suspect shows ALL of the above criteria: Capability, Opportunity, and Intent.

    AND deadly force is the last thing we want to do, we'd rather force you to comply than to kill you. If you charge us with a knife, if you're close enough we may shoot, but honestly, I'm probably going to spray you with OC before you get in that dangerous range.

    Hope this helps!
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  10. #10
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    Short answer: no.

    Longer version: You don't fire unless you truly feel you need to use deadly force. You don't shoot to wound. You don't fire shots up in the air or off in the distance where they can have unintended consequences. Firing your weapon is a last resort. This is why so many departments use tasers now in order to have a non-lethal option.
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    practical experience, FTW Steve Collins's Avatar
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    I'm a UK and US Police Firearms Instructor, the bottom line is no. You shoot to stop a threat , you don't shoot to wound or kill you just shoot to stop the threat. In the circumstances you outline with the man with the knife if he was warned and kept coming he would be shot center mass.
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    Growing up in a family Chicago PD officers I would tell you legally no, actually well?

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    Writing my way off the B Ark Becky Black's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mustafa View Post
    I meant more in the sense that someone is approaching, say with a knife, from a distance (a dozen or so meters), and they tell they guy to stop or they'll shoot. The guy doesn't stop so they fire a warning shot to show they're serious. No?
    The thing is, does firing a warning shot actually demonstrate that the warning you just gave "if you don't stop I will shoot you" is serious? Because if you say you will shoot someone if they continue, and they do continue and you don't shoot them but do something else instead, then you aren't serious, are you?
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    Quote Originally Posted by Becky Black View Post
    The thing is, does firing a warning shot actually demonstrate that the warning you just gave "if you don't stop I will shoot you" is serious? Because if you say you will shoot someone if they continue, and they do continue and you don't shoot them but do something else instead, then you aren't serious, are you?
    This. Besides what experts have already said, a warning shot is an equivocation, not a demonstration of intent. It would be better that the guy rushing you with a knife think you're a bad shot than that you missed intentionally.

    Warning shots across an enemy ship's bow notwithstanding.

  15. #15
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    Not an expert, but in modern times I think they would go with the taser or pepper spray if they could.

  16. #16
    Quote Originally Posted by TNTales View Post
    Not an expert, but in modern times I think they would go with the taser or pepper spray if they could.

    if someone is charging them with a knife, probably not.

  17. #17
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    Escalation of Force

    As with most military rules of engagement, police forces are typically taught to respect certain escalations of force and to try and restrict them from higher up the threat scales, if possible.

    A drunken beligerent doesn't warrant drawing your weapon, let alone a warning shot. Neither does a protest march that has escalated into *some minor* physical property damage. They have response targets to various scenarios. Back in the day they might have fired a warning shot, before the advent of numerous non-lethal methods of escalation (pepper spray, water cannons, tazers, etc). That said the threat levels were likely less severe.

    I can't think of **any** scenario a police officer didn't draw his pistol to shoot center of mass to stop an imminent threat to himself or a victim. That said, in a stand-off with people in an armoured Brink's truck, shooting the tires out may be considered as a 'warning shot' of sorts. We're parsing terminology though.

    Warning shots of any sort would likely be limited to non-lethal forms of 'coersion' or 'influence.' Heck that's one of the reasons the tazer was developed; the arguements over tazer efficacy as a warning is likely another topic altogether.

  18. #18
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    In the United States the police are not trained to fire warning shots and, in most cases, are strictly prohibited against firing warning shots by their department policy.

    This is primarily because a "warning shot" still has to land somewhere and there is the chance it could cause death or injury to some other person.

    Another reason is that in the time it takes to decide to fire a warning shot, fire the shot, and wait to see if the suspect complies, the suspect could attack the officer.

    My understanding is this has been the general policy of the vast majority of PD's in the U.S. going back to at least the 1980's or 1970's.

    You can find recorded instances of police firing warning shots back in the 50's and earlier, but for anything contemporary, the answer is "No."

    Btw, other countries have different policies and it seems warning shots are still used by police in other places either as a regular practice or as part of "crowd control" during a riot, etc.

  19. #19
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    No warning shots.

    If it's time to shoot, put the round where it'll do some good.

  20. #20
    Still confused by shoelaces Once!'s Avatar
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    Not an expert, but wouldn't you want to keep your gun aimed at the miscreant at all times? Shifting your aim to get a warning shot off doesn't sound a very sensible thing to do.

    As far as I am concerned, an armed police officer facing a dangerous suspect would take aim and then keep that aim locked in whilst negotiating.

    I'd also be worried that the sound of the gunshot might spook the bad guy into doing something stooopid.

    So no warning shots in real life. You might spin a story about a maverick cop who breaks the rules, Dirty Harry style. But, apart from that, it doesn't feel realistic.

  21. #21
    Keeper of Fort Blanket L.C. Blackwell's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Once! View Post
    You might spin a story about a maverick cop who breaks the rules, Dirty Harry style. But, apart from that, it doesn't feel realistic.
    It's not. Here in the US, you don't draw your weapon unless you're prepared to use deadly force. Once that gun comes out of the holster, the only difference between a dead suspect or a live suspect is whether he chooses compliance or aggression. Which is why the police try their best to keep things from escalating to that level.

    Weapons drawn on an unresisting suspect, for example at a traffic stop, usually mean the person is known to be armed and dangerous--thus the threat level has already escalated.

    Edit: if Lorna is correct, this is only general and not universal US policy. However, I've never met an officer who would fire a warning shot--it's a stupid thing to do, for a variety of reasons.
    Last edited by L.C. Blackwell; 05-06-2012 at 06:24 AM.
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    From another point of view, if you're a wrongdoer about to confront a policeperson forcefully enough for them to draw their weapon, that officer wants you to be very clear that if they need to fire, they will most likely kill you. Not, "maybe they'll fire at me, and maybe they won't."
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    the living dead Rabe's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Forlorn Radiance View Post
    AND deadly force is the last thing we want to do, we'd rather force you to comply than to kill you. If you charge us with a knife, if you're close enough we may shoot, but honestly, I'm probably going to spray you with OC before you get in that dangerous range.
    As an O.C. instructor, I'm very concerned by the above statement because, in the theorized example given, by the time the suspect comes into effective implementation range of O.C., he's already in the dangerous range.

    As for the original question: as a law enforcement officer I will not, ever, do warning shots. Not with my gun, my Taser, my O.C., baton or any other tool I use in the job - except maybe with my citations.

    I would give 'warnings' where those are concerned. But nothing else.

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  24. #24
    From a logistical point of view, warning shots leave one vulnerable, and in that window, Bad Things Happen.

    I believe, and please, law enforcement officers, correct me if I'm mistaken, the officer has to log in every shot they take with their side arm when the day is done. If five bullets were fired, then they need to logged when, where and how. "Warning Shot" might not look good in a report.

    At least that's what I got from my own research. And again, if I'm mistaken, I welcome correction.

  25. #25
    Lost in the Fog rugcat's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cavalier View Post
    From a logistical point of view, warning shots leave one vulnerable, and in that window, Bad Things Happen.

    I believe, and please, law enforcement officers, correct me if I'm mistaken, the officer has to log in every shot they take with their side arm when the day is done. If five bullets were fired, then they need to logged when, where and how. "Warning Shot" might not look good in a report.

    At least that's what I got from my own research. And again, if I'm mistaken, I welcome correction.
    Another (ex) police officer weighing in.

    Situations where firing a warning shot is acceptable procedure: None.

    And yes, any time you discharge your firearm, for any reason (outside the range) a full report detailing the circumstances is required.

    Not at the end of the day or shift. At the conclusion of the episode, or as soon as is practicable.
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