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They Miss a Lot

Updated: Sep 6, 2023

They Miss Alot
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They Miss a Lot

By: Sgt. Tracy Barnhart

OhioHealth Police Agency

A 2006 paper published in the journal Police Quarterly looked at New York City Police Officers' exchange of gunfire. The researchers found officers missed 82 percent of the time when they were being shot at. When NYPD officers are being shot at, their return fire only hits the intended target 18 percent of the time.

How is that possible?

"One of the first things the body does is, it's called vasoconstriction," says retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman. Grossman, a former Infantry officer and West Point Psychology professor, wrote a book called “On Killing” about the psychological cost of learning to kill.

He says adrenaline has a severe impact on your ability to do things that would normally be easy. "The body shuts down the blood flow to the outer layer of the body in preparation to take trauma," explained Grossman. That's called vasoconstriction. And it has other impacts.

"The dynamics that are happening…it's kind of loss of fine motor control, a loss in your vision, tunnel vision, auditory exclusion," he said. This isn't an adrenaline rush like that one time you went skydiving. "It's something unlike anything you'll ever experience," Grossman said.

That's why the military and police induce stress during training. Whether it's simulated gunfire, sleep and food deprivation, or the classic drill sergeant screaming while recruits struggle to function, the idea is that trainees will be better prepared for real life situations.

It's also why they do thousands of repetitions.

It’s a known fact in police tactics that when dynamic or stressful situations happen, the officer doesn’t have time to think about what he or she needs to do or how to react to that situation, they just do it. Where does that “just do it” reaction come from? Through constant training. This type of reaction just doesn’t come from doing something one or two times, it’s from constant training and “muscle memory”. Muscle memory is how your body reacts without you thinking about it. How do you get muscle memory? By constant training and doing repetitive skills over and over again. The question is, if you don’t train, what does your body do when something dynamic happens? It goes into panic mode and panic mode is when bad things happen. This is especially true with using firearms. Using firearms takes skills. These skills are depreciative, meaning you lose those skills over time. So, it's a use it or lose it kind of skill. Going to the shooting range once a year isn’t going to keep those skills fresh when a dynamic situation pops up in front of you.


Just as in any profession, untreated stress can lead to serious consequences. These consequences not only affect the individual officer, but also those with whom the officer has daily contact, such as colleagues, supervisors, friends, family, and the public.

According to “On-the-Job Stress in Policing: Reducing It, Preventing It,” some of the more common consequences of job-related stress reported by police officers are:

· Cynicism and suspiciousness

· Emotional detachment from various aspects of daily life

· Reduced efficiency

· Absenteeism and early retirement

· Excessive aggressiveness (which may trigger an increase in citizen complaints)

· Alcoholism and other substance abuse problems

· Marital or other family problems (for example, extramarital affairs, divorce, or domestic violence)

· Post-traumatic stress disorder

· Heart attacks, ulcers, weight gain, and other health problems

· Suicide


Law enforcement officers can reduce stress by:

· Planning meals and making healthy eating choices. Stop eating high-calorie fast food.

· Scheduling vacations and personal downtime.

· Seeing your doctor regularly for checkups.

· Sharing the workload and reducing the amount of overtime.

· Living within your financial means so that “moonlighting” with a second job is not necessary.

· Creating a realistic exercise program and forming healthy habits to get regular exercise.

· Creating a “Patrol Buddy” program and making time to check on each other.

· Keeping your civilian friends to help you get away from the job. If you socialize with police friends, make a point not to talk about work on your downtime together.

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