Book Review: Deadly Force: Firearms and American Law Enforcement, from the Wild West to the Streets of Today

Deadly Force I read Deadly Force: Firearms and American Law Enforcement, from the Wild West to the Streets of Today by Chris McNab last year. I found the book to be a great resource of study into the history of police use of force. I use the book as a reference often for training and for this blog. The realties of police deadly force are often lost in the linear world of there is an answer to everything and 1+1 equals 2,  when the realties of deadly force encounters actually ebb and flow in the nonlinear world of fast paced, unpredictable, unknowns and unexpected circumstances. When the deadly mix of officer, suspect and circumstances clash 1+1 suddenly does not equal 2 anymore and instead equals numerous possible outcomes based on two or more emotional and adaptable people in conflict making real-time decisions that life and death hinge upon.

Almost every movie of  a police shootout includes the following depiction of violence: good guy shoots bad guy: bad guy instantly drops dead. But the realty is that when someone is hit by a bullet, or even several bullets, this rarely happens.

What does happen when someone is shot? How effective is the use of handguns? Why are so many shots fired at a shootout? Why don’t officers shoot a gun out of an assailants hands, or shoot him in the leg instead of killing him?  What is it really like for an officer to pull his gun and fire?

In this book, the author analyses the use of force in the control of crime in the United States from the Civil war to the present day. Covering incidents and shootings of Bonnie and Clyde tot eh Waco Siege, and the actions of gunmen from Wild Bill Hicock to modern Swat reams, he answers these questions and examines the history of armed response and those who in enforcing law face making life and death choices in a few, traumatic seconds.

“If one point is clear from this book, it is that the use of deadly force always has consequences, social, legal, professional. we must also acknowledge the personal impact on the officer. While he or she may have mentally accepted the possibility that joining the police could result in having to shoot someone, the living realty of experiencing it is a totally different matter.

Following a shooting, an officer will frequently find himself in a disorientating world. from purely a mental point of view, many officers who have been involved in shootings will often report the full gamut of post-traumatic-stress-disorder PTSD conditions: depression, loss of appetite, obsessively replaying the event, nightmares, physical tremors, guilt, nausea etc. These symptoms can extend for weeks and months, sometimes years, during which time the officer will also have to cope with the procedural and legal fallout from the incident.” 

The book sheds a lot of light on the realities versus the myths of police use of force both cops and civilians could learn a lot from.

“There is no denying that the steady professionalism of firearms and force training has brought benefits in the overall reduction of officers killed and the numbers of innocents downed by police fire. And yet, there is no escaping the fact that officers and civilians will continue to die in police engagements, regardless of the introduction of less lethal technologies, the United States remains after all, a place with relatively high levels of violent armed crime. Equally doubtless is the fact hat officers will make mistakes that hit the headlines in block capitals and exclamation marks. The fact is that regardless of the type of training applied, their are certain psychological constants involved in a deadly force encounter, and they will always limit the degree of control over outcomes. A modern highly trained police officer facing death is just as scared as the 19th century sheriff confronting the same. The problems of making profound life decisions whether or not to shoot someone, in a fraction of a second are never entirely eradicated by training, no matter its degree of sophistication. Deadly force will always be part of chaos and random consequences, and this is one reason why it often clashes with public sensibilities.”In the civilian world, we can become conditioned to the neatness of TV or Hollywood shootings, whereas in the real world shootings are mentally frantic and physically unpredictable, and should always be judged on the basis of such.” 

I highly recommend this book!

Stay Oriented!