What you’re about to see in this dramatic video is probably not a standard police tactic. The bodycam video shows a Las Vegas police officer in pursuit of a vehicle driven by murder suspects. There is an exchange of gunfire — featuring the astonishing sight of a police officer firing 11 shots through his own windshield.
These high-stakes decisions are made in the heat of the moment, and Officer William Umana was certainly managing a complicated and dangerous situation — conducting the chase, weaving between cars, radioing his position and actions and descriptions of the suspects, and above all, being shot at. He then made a judgment call that involved weighing risks to himself and to the public:
- Possibly ruining his field of view from a shattered windshield.
- Possibly wounding himself with flying glass or a deflected bullet.
- Bullets fired through a sloped windshield might take a wildly different trajectory.
- Aside from deflection (he later is able to fire out his open side window), accuracy when firing from one moving vehicle toward another would be low. Calculations of officers’ accuracy in high-stress shootings in the field range from 17 percent to 40 percent, and that’s when standing on their own two feet.
- When the suspect vehicle stops, the officer is momentarily left with an empty weapon before changing magazines to confront the shooters.
- Firing from a moving car, it’s likely impossible to ensure a safe backstop and the safety of civilians.
Of course, the suspects’ gunfire was certainly endangering the public, of that there’s no doubt. Police say they fired on officers more than 30 times during the pursuit through downtown Las Vegas.
“When you look at that video, you get a clear picture of what officers were dealing with,” Assistant Sheriff Tim Kelly told KSNV-TV. “In my opinion they showed bravery and heroics we come to expect from our officers.”
The incident began with a shooting early July 11 at a carwash. The victim of that shooting later died at a hospital. Hours later, Umana spotted an SUV matching the description of the suspects, and gave chase. The SUV eventually came to a stop at the wall of an elementary school. Police fatally shot one suspect and wounded the other, who tried to escape into the school where kids were in summer session. Both men were later determined to be felons with lengthy records.
Kelly said department policy permits firing from a moving vehicle when there’s immediate danger to the public or police. Officers don’t specifically train for the situation, which “may come up in one in 1,000 stops that the officer may come across,” Kelly said. “We hardly expect those types of situations to come up.”
As for the public risk, Kelly said, “We have citizens out on the roadways. We have citizens who are walking. We’re just very lucky and fortunate that those suspects didn’t hit an innocent bystander. Very, very lucky.”
What do you think? Above all, are you glad you don’t have to make these kinds of decisions?