We have seen numerous officers across the country engage in officer-involved shootings (OIS), firing rounds out of their patrol car’s windshield.
You can explain shooting out of the windshield if your car is either parked or stopped by impact, you are seated in the vehicle, and being attacked. However, shooting through that windshield while driving down the road at speed during a pursuit may be different.
Two examples of mobile gunfights that made perfect sense involved suspects and officers with rifles. The Albuquerque gunfight started when the suspect shot an officer with a semi-auto rifle before stealing his patrol car; eventually, three more officers were wounded, with one officer’s heart stopping multiple times.
An Oklahoma Highway Patrol officer was involved in the hunt for a suspect who had killed two people and wounded three officers and a motorist in October 2016. At night, he found the suspect and pursued him on a rural farm road. Shots were exchanged during the pursuit before a final gunfight with the suspect and officers on foot. When interviewed by the media, the officer said, “I know I’ve got a double murderer in front of me who at that time had already shot two cops and an innocent civilian at a carjacking. Is it reasonable to believe that if I let him get away that he’s going to leave and hurt more people?”
Those are two examples of it being done right.
So, what are the issues?
How well is someone doing both driving and shooting? When driving, we look well ahead of our bumper. However, if we introduce a firearm, our focus is tied to its sights. How much of what else is going on out there will you see?
Windshields cause projectiles to deflect. Where that round strikes the window affects where it goes. The firearms instructors at my old department had access to cars we could shoot out for training. Once, we put a target with an aiming point on the upper chest three feet off the front bumper. Even though all rounds went through the same windshield, there was a significant difference in where they hit. What about shots fired at a moving target several car lengths ahead?
Is it going to be viewed as reasonable?
In 2018, a street cop in a large metropolitan police department was involved in a daytime pursuit of murder suspects. While fleeing on multi-lane streets, the suspects were shooting at officers. The lead officer started shooting at the suspect’s vehicle when the pursuit entered a residential area. He fired multiple shots out of his windshield. The video footage shows each shot going through a different part of the windshield. At one point, the officer switched to his support hand, extended the pistol out the driver’s window, and tried to engage that way.
There were citizens out and about, other vehicles out on the roadway. Fortunately, no innocents were hit by gunfire.
It is one thing for shots to be fired down a farm road at night. Does that change in a business district? In a residential neighborhood? On the weekend?
On a Saturday morning, a lateral trainee with 15 years on and his 10-year veteran training officer were dispatched to a report of a family member who had been using street drugs for several days. He reportedly had a firearm and a knife in his vehicle. As officers arrived, the subject drove off and reportedly brandished the gun. The trainee was driving; he drew his pistol and began shooting. He told the training officer to shoot, which he later did. Both fired several shots out the windshield while driving through the neighborhood. The trainee officer was fired but not charged; the field training officer also suffered significant discipline.
During the widespread rioting in 2020, one agency had a shooting with a suppressed short-barreled rifle. Officers went to the reported looting of a store. The officer was in a pick-up’s backseat with two officers up front. On-scene, a lieutenant identified a subject he thought was drawing a handgun. Using a suppressed SBR, the officer shot the suspect through the windshield. The perceived firearm turned out to be a hammer. The district attorney reviewed and rejected the case – before adverse changes to California’s use of force laws.
At least one plaintiffs’ attorney specializing in suing officers has started hammering on shootings like these.
Where do the rounds go?
One state agency in the South-West was pursuing two suspects who had robbed a restaurant drive-thru. By then, the female robbery suspect had gotten in the passenger seat. She began shooting at the officers on a rural highway. Officers did end up quite close to the suspect’s car. At least one officer returned fire. In the pursuit video, one hears gunfire within the patrol car and sees rounds striking the roadway between the vehicles.
The suspect’s vehicle crashed, and SWAT responded. The male suspect had multiple gunshot wounds when he surrendered, while the female suspect dead. News reports said officers had gone through numerous magazines each. Granted, this was on a rural highway; however, what are those rounds going in an urban environment?
One commonality has been officers moving the pistol for every shot and hitting the intact glass rather than shooting enough in the same spot to create a port. That moving of the muzzle is counter to what various organizations teach regarding creating one hole with multiple rounds.
I ask rather than comment on the reasonableness of these shootings because I don’t have sufficient information about the officers’ state of mind. The “8 Can’t-Wait” police reform group demands a ban on any shooting into or out of vehicles.
I am concerned that no or inadequate training will lead to bans on shooting from a stopped vehicle when needed. I do not want to see this prohibited because exiting the car is not always an option.
How many officers, or concealed carriers, have had the opportunity to shoot through a windshield, never mind multiple windshields? How many know that you need to fire multiple rounds through the same hole to open a spot that doesn’t impact the departing projectile? High double digits? Low double digits? Single digit?
Who has shot out of the windshield from the driver’s seat while driving?
Low single digits, if any?
Is shooting out of the windshield while driving in a pursuit the best idea?
Note: All of the screen captures in this article were done by the author from videos released by the involved agencies.