In 2016, the International Association of Chiefs of Police and 10 other law enforcement groups met to outline a consensus policy on the use of force — a primer for local departments that want to update their rules.
When the document was released in January, it contained a surprise: It allowed for warning shots.
The “warning shot” tactic is still sinking in for use-of-force subject matter experts around the county.
According to NPR, there’s never been a mandatory national rule against warning shots, but the IACP used to recommend that departments ban the practice. Leading agencies such as the New York Police Department to have long standing bans in place.
“The idea of warning shots has been prohibited for decades in policing,” says Lou Hayes Jr., a police officer and trainer with the Virtus Group Inc. “And to now open the door up again is pretty eye-opening.”
Although some may argue the practice gives officers another tool save lives, warning shots do come with inherent risks.
“When you raise the gun and blindly fire, you don’t know where that bullet will land,” says Massad Ayoob, a longtime officer and widely respected firearms trainer. “A few decades ago I followed a case in New England where the guy raised his gun, fired what he thought was into the air, and the bullet struck and killed someone on the top floor porch of a nearby tenement building.”
There are consequences to firing in the air Ayoob contends, and says the reality of the situation is not what people see portrayed in Hollywood.
“Movies show people firing a shot in the air and the running man stops,” he says. “And that just ain’t how it happens in real life.” Often, he says, the gunshots just persuade a suspect to run faster.