Should officers shoot to incapacitate? Central Florida, Georgia law enforcement leaders discuss

Chief Louis Dekmar, with the LaGrange Police Department, is an advocate of this new training

Just this week, a Daytona Beach police officer shot and killed a man who the department was tracking because he had multiple felony warrants, according to Police Chief Jakari Young.

Central Florida has seen its share of fatal police shootings.

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News 6 spent the last year researching and reporting these police shootings on our digital show Solutionaries.

Since 2015, law enforcement officers have shot and killed nearly 1,000 people every year in the United States, according to data from The Washington Post.

And a police chief in Georgia is trying to decrease fatal shootings by introducing a new concept to training.

For decades, law enforcement officers around the country have been taught to shoot at center mass, which is the largest target on the body—and the most likely to kill.

At the LaGrange Police Department, officers still train that way, but they also train to shoot to wound when they can.

Chief Louis Dekmar has more than 40 years of law enforcement experience and nearly 27 years as chief of LaGrange police.

“The intention is that the officer is given an option that will stop the threat and preserve life,” Dekmar said. “And when you do that, you also bolster the confidence and the support of the people that you serve.”

In 2004, on a training delegation to Israel, Dekmar found the Israeli police applied the same concept.

“My immediate reaction was that will never work here,” Dekmar said.

Around 2018, Dekmar started researching and found that of the roughly 1,000 fatal police shootings in the U.S every year, about a third of those involved subjects who were armed with something other than a firearm, according to statistics from The Washington Post, which has been tracking police shootings around the country since 2015.

Dekmar talked to physicians and found that while shooting at center mass is most likely to kill, it doesn’t necessarily immediately stop a threat, he said.

“We saw a number of videos where folks are shot multiple times but keep advancing because they’re relying on blood loss or shock for that individual to stop,” Dekmar told News 6. “The mechanics of hitting the hip or the thigh or the abdomen, will stop someone, sometimes quicker than shooting them center mass.”

We brought the concept to Orange County Sheriff John Mina and asked if it is something he will consider for his deputies.

“Absolutely not,” he said. “No, I’m not going to ask our deputies to incur even more risk.”

In addition to regular firearms training, Dekmar’s officers have three hours of classroom training, de-escalation training, regular firearms training and quarterly scenario-based training.

Shortly after training, an officer had a real-life situation that mirrored his scenario training: A standoff between him and a man with a machete.

The incident was captured on the officer’s body camera.

“Drop the machete. You’re gonna get shot,” the officer can be heard saying to the man in the video.

When the man turns toward the officer with the machete, the officer fires his taser first.

When the suspect keeps coming toward the officer, the officer shoots him below center mass in the stomach.

The officer was not injured and the suspect lived.

“To ask a law enforcement officer to incur all that risk of aiming for an extremity, (which) is harder to hit than center mass, is unreasonable in my opinion,” Mina said.

Dekmar said that’s why his suggested method is just one option.

“We train it just like we train every other option and officer’s make a judgement, based on time and distance, as to what they believe is the best course of action,” Dekmar said.

He added the man with the machete was in the hospital for six days then taken to the county jail which is the whole point of shooting to incapacitate—saving lives.

News 6 asked other Central Florida agencies their thoughts about the policy.

Chief of the Belle Isle Police Department Chief said it would be a big transition.

“This would be a change in police practices and training that have been in place for decades,” Houston said.

Andrew Gant, spokesperson for the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office, said the team is aware of this practice.

“We’re aware of alternative philosophies like the one you’re asking about but our agency isn’t adopting it,” Gant wrote in an email.

He added that the way to reduce deadly force is through de-escalation training.

About the Author:

Emmy Award-winning reporter Louis Bolden joined the News 6 team in September of 2001 and hasn't gotten a moment's rest since. Louis has been a General Assignment Reporter for News 6 and Weekend Morning Anchor. He joined the Special Projects/Investigative Unit in 2014.