The recent resurrection of a bill in the New York State Assembly (A02952) has once again set off alarms throughout New York’s law enforcement community. The legislation would require police to use minimal force to stop a person even if that person were armed and dangerous or using unlawful force. This proposal would change the state law from the current standard of shoot to stop the threat, which gives police the discretionary authority to use deadly force, to what has been called a “shoot-to-wound” standard.
The impetus for the bill was a tragic case in which a 23-year-old unarmed man named Sean Bell was fatally shot on his wedding day. After leaving his bachelor’s party with two friends, Bell drove his car into a police detective and then an unmarked police van twice. In the ensuing confusion, police fired 50 shots into the car, striking all three men and killing Bell. After the incident, three officers charged in the shooting explained that Bell appeared to present a threat as he seemed to use the car to attack them while one officer believed a passenger had reached for a gun. A judge exonerated them on all charges.
While one can sympathize with the desire to prevent future tragedies, the real effect of this legislation, introduced by Assemblywoman Annette Robinson (D-Brooklyn) and sponsored by Assemblyman Darryl Towns (D-East New York), would be to hamstring police efforts to protect the public, further endanger officers already at risk in such confrontations, and tip the balance of power toward violent criminals.
The fundamental problem with the “No-Kill” bill is that it asks police to accomplish a nearly impossible physical feat—to shoot a person in the arm or leg as they are in motion, rather than aiming for the larger target area of the torso, as they are currently trained to do. Only Hollywood gunslingers shoot the weapon out of an opponent’s hand or wound a limb. In the real world, officers under pressure, with their lives on the line and possibly operating at night with little light, are unlikely to shoot with that much precision, no matter how well trained they are.