Skill needed: deadly accuracy

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In St. Louis last month, I came upon a drunk man in an alley. He was carrying a baby strapped into a car seat, but he was so impaired he kept dropping the child on the ground. By shouting at him, I finally got him to place the baby safely on the gound near a trash bin, but then he pulled a machete, raised it over his head and rushed toward me. I shouted for him to him to stop.

But he kept coming.

I drew my Glock pistol and shot him 15 times in the head and chest.

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It was my second time using the Firearms Training Simulator, or F.A.T.S., essentially a sophistictated video game on a 10-foot screen. The firearms are real, but modified to send information about your shots to the game computer and juiced with carbon dioxide to make the gun recoil when you shoot. The scenarios aren’t computer generated; they’re videos shot with live actors — real people. Law enforcement officers use the system to train for tricky scenarios they might face on a bad day of patrol. After they finish shooting, the instructor can play back the scene and break down their decision making.

Last month, I used the simulator in a conference room at Bouchercon, the crime fiction community’s annual family reunion. This was my second time (the first was with the Greenvile, S.C., Sheriff’s Office back when I was a newspaper crime reporter).

The experience feels surprisingly real. I finished half an hour of shooting with the same sense as last time: A deep respect for law officers who cannot legitimately shoot a suspect often until a tenth of a  second before the officer’s own life might end. The suspect must present a clear lethal threat and fail to obey commands to stop.

F.A.T.S. puts you right in that moment: A suspect is hostile and refusing to obey your commands. He reaches into his pocket. You order him to put his hands over his head. But he pulls out a shiny object and brings it up toward your chest. This is the tenth of a second: Is it a pistol? If so, two shots to the body, one to the head — and you’d better put them on target. Is it a knife? If so, more commands to drop the weapon, and if the guy comes at you, two to the body, one to the head. But it a cellphone? A ratchet wrench? A card explaining the man is deaf and speaks only in sign language? Decide wrong or shoot poorly, and you die or kill an innocent person. A hell of a choice: Be carried out in a bag, or leave knowing you’ve ended another human life.

The Glock handgun company’s slogan is “Glock Perfection,” and that’s exactly what an officer-involved shooting situation requires of the cop. This is why in my fiction I treat a shooting by one of the good guys with, well, a grim reverence. As I say in my just-finished manuscript, it’s “a life at stake … requiring another life to be gambled because you have to call a bet with a same-size stack of chips. An ugly situation hell-bent on ending ugly.”

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This article has 1 comment

  1. Kimberly Israel 10/13/2011, 9:36 am:

    Can tell you’re a professional writer who knows how to grab the attention of your victims…um…readers. You nearly gave me a heart attack with those first few paragraphs!

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