Saturday, March 08, 2008

Interesting Take on Low-Light Shootings!

Fascinating Stuff from the Force Science Research Center at Minnesota State University on point-of-aim in low light encounters, specifically the "Triangle of Death" visible white t-shirts on police officers:
The rumor bouncing around various law enforcement listservs piqued Cmdr. Michael Richards' curiosity.

Street gangs in California, the story went, were training members to shoot cops at night by aiming for the highly visible patch of white T-shirt exposed above the top of many officers' vests. "The Triangle of Death," posters to the listservs called it.

Whether the rumor was fact or fiction, Richards wondered: Just how dangerous is this so-called Triangle of Death for LEOs?

He set up a little experiment that he says shocked him.

On the indoor range of his department, Mundelein (IL) PD, an agency of 50 sworn in a suburb northwest of Chicago, he positioned a 6 ft.-tall mannequin target, buttoned a blue uniform shirt on it, and slipped a sheet of white, legal-sized paper behind the shirt so that just enough was exposed at the top to simulate a bit of T-shirt.

He then dimmed the lighting to resemble "what you'd find in an older residential neighborhood, with some streetlamps and a lot of heavy trees," he told Force Science News. "You could make out the target, but you had to strain to really see what was going on." In other words, a lot like normal nighttime patrol conditions in many areas. From the control booth, Richards says, "the contrast between the patch of white paper and the dark shirt was really obvious."

One at a time, he brought in a series of randomly selected officers he knew, as the department's rangemaster, to be "average" shooters. "They typically qualify with low numbers, don't necessarily like to shoot and go to the range only because they have to," he explained. "I figured they'd be like the typical suspect who gets into a shooting with an officer-not overly proficient with a handgun. I didn't want any of the top shooters involved."

Explaining only that this was a "quick course in low-light shooting" so as not to tip off the true point of the test, Richards led each officer to a spot about 10 feet in front of the target. He told each to draw at the sound of a timer buzzer, step to the left or to the right, come up on target, fire 3 rounds as fast as possible, then scan the area. By incorporating movement, scanning and time pressure, "I wanted to distract them from thinking too much about the target."

Each officer fired a total of 18 rounds (6 sets of 3 shots apiece), using his duty pistol (either a .40-cal. Glock or a Sig). After an officer finished, the "T-shirt" was changed before the next test subject was brought in.

"The shot placement was shocking" when he analyzed the results, Richards says. "On our department we train to shoot center mass, usually using flat, 2-dimensional targets on a fully lit range. In training, our shots consistently tend to go to the center. If officers are shooting at high speed, their rounds may drop down toward the stomach, but they don't often go higher."

In his low-light experiment, by contrast, more than 80% of the shots across all the officers and all sets of fire hit in or immediately around the Triangle of Death simulated by the peek of white paper. In other words, Richards concluded, in low light they overrode their training and focused their shots on what was most vividly visible. All the officers confirmed in a post-shooting debrief that the patch of white had drawn their aim.

"Absolutely right," says Dr. Bill Lewinski, executive director of the Force Science Research Center at Minnesota State University-Mankato. Although Richards' sample was limited (only 6 officers) and his methods admittedly not scientifically pristine, the thrust of his experiment and his thinking are right on track, Lewinski maintains.

"Our research on attention shows that when people are trying to understand what is happening in a stressful, uncertain situation, they scan the scene quickly and grasp little bits of available information," he explains. "This process is automatic, almost instinctive. For the most part, their attention is attracted to something first and then shortly after that they recognize why it caught their attention.
So far as the Triangle of Death is concerned, "Don't equate looking professional with wearing a crisp white T-shirt under your uniform," Avery cautions. "Dress for your mission: that's the dress code for the modern officer."

Cmdr. Richards now urges all his officers to wear dark T-shirts on duty. He and all the department's firearms instructors do so, as a show of "leadership by example." Most patrol officers have followed suit. A few officers still wear white, unmindful of what Avery calls "a no-brainer."


Anonymous said...

Do you figure that's why most police in winter today use turtlenecks? Or the SWAT teams use balaclavas?

On the other hand, most of the cops in ND wear light colored shirts, usually tan or light blue. It's the big city cops that wear the black shirts (hmmm, where did we see those before?) and white t-shirts.

Unknown said...

I just returned two white Under Armour shirts that I bought last week because of this article...Replaced them with black ones!

Chas S. Clifton said...

I have noticed more and more cops over the years wearing black T-shirts. Are there still some departments that require white?

Anonymous said...

I completed a study and was laughed at by management saying there was not enough info to prove it exsisted. I will keep trying. to answer yur question...are depts still requiring white...the answer is yes!

louiegarnica said...

Is there a direct link anywhere to this "Triangle of Death" report...?

Keith C. said...

I have went against department policy in this area. I am trying to change the mind of the upper brass to have them understand that it is a safety issue, not a "Look" issue. As the RangeMaster of my department, I too as going to do my own study with my officers. To answer Chas., our SOP just came out for summer dress and it included a WHITE t-shirt! They wont learn until one of their own get shot in the TRIANGLE!!!