Watts
"Trained police hit their targets less than 30 percent of the time."

Shannon Watts on Monday, May 21st, 2018 in a tweet

Half-True

Do more than 7 in 10 police bullets miss their mark, as this gun control advocate said?

Firearms training unit Detective Barbara J. Mattson, of the Connecticut State Police, holds up a Bushmaster AR-15 rifle Jan. 28, 2013. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File)

Calls to arm school teachers grew louder after a gunman at a Santa Fe, Texas, high school on May 18 killed eight students and two teachers, and injured 13 others.

Second Amendment proponents, with backing from President Donald Trump, say putting guns in the hands of volunteer personnel would make schools safer. But gun control advocates argue the proposal would lead to dangerous unintended consequences.

"Trained police hit their targets less than 30 percent of the time, yet the @NRA wants to arm volunteer teachers," Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, tweeted May 21. "It's on each of us to prevent this NRA dystopia, and stop letting the gun lobby write our gun laws. We're sacrificing our children at the altar of gun manufacturers' profits."

Watts may have a point that the average armed teacher might be less accurate than a trained cop. But her claim that trained police hit their target "less than 30 percent of the time" is not as clear-cut as Watts suggests.

New York Police Department

For starters, national numbers on police marksmanship are not readily available. But we found data on some individual jurisdictions, including several major metropolitan police departments.

An aide to Watts pointed us to a 2008 Rand study that looked at the accuracy of New York Police Department officer-involved shootings. The key data point is the "hit rate," the number of rounds that struck a suspect divided by total shots fired.

The Rand study looked at NYPD firearm-discharge reports from from 1998 through 2006. Some of the findings point in Watts’ favor, while other data refutes her point.

Hit ratios were below 30 percent for gunfights (18 percent) and from long ranges (23 percent from more than seven yards away). However, in cases where suspects did not return fire, NYPD officers hit their targets 30 percent of the time. Accuracy levels were above 30 percent when the target was seven yards away or closer (37 percent).

Recent data shows a further uptick in the NYPD’s hit rate compared with the Rand study.

Inspector Kevin Maloney, who headed up the NYPD unit that oversees police-involved shootings, told the New York Daily News in December 2017 that the NYPD fired a record low number of rounds that year. The department’s hit ratio also exceeded those in the 2008 Rand study in 2017.

NYPD cops fired 170 shots and hit their targets 75 times, for a hit ratio of 44 percent for the year, as of Dec. 21, 2017. In 2016, police landed 107 of a total 304 shots fired, a hit ratio of roughly 35 percent. Again, Watts said the hit rate was less than 30 percent.

Los Angeles Police Department

Recent data from the Los Angeles Police Department further undermines Watts’ claim. According to the LAPD’s 2016 report, the average annual hit ratio from 2012 through 2016 was 33.4 percent, with a substantial uptick in 2016.

"With a lot of training and reform, LAPD has a hit rate of 48 percent (in 2016). That is likely at the high end of hit rates," said Gregory Ridgeway, an associate professor of criminology and statistics at the University of Pennsylvania. "Their number of rounds per incident is also way down in the last five years."

Other jurisdictions

In a 2006 study, Michael D. White, a criminology professor at Arizona State University, provided a roundup of hit ratio data from various jurisdictions and timeframes. (This data is quite old but we provide to give a broader cross-section of jurisdictions.)

JURISDICTION

HIT RATIO

TIMEFRAME

155 Michigan police departments

27%

1976 to 1981

New York Police Department

26%

1987

New York Police Department

31%

1988

New York Police Department

23%

1990

Los Angeles Police Department

56%

1970s

Los Angeles Police Department

28%

1980 to 1988

Metro-Dade, Florida

31%

January 1984 - June 1988

Memphis

25%

1991

San Antonio

100%

1991

San Francisco

100%

1991

 

"Hit rates vary notably across police agencies but rarely exceed 50 percent," White wrote. "The research examining shooter accuracy overwhelmingly debunks the Hollywood myth of police officers as sharp shooters who can wing suspects in the shoulder or leg or shoot weapons out of suspects’ hands."

Firearms training varies across jurisdictions. Some major metropolitan police departments require officers to qualify up to four times a year on handgun marksmanship and undergo simulated training exercises.

Police experts say that armed teachers should also be forced to undertake specialized and repeated training regimens.

"Simply putting a gun on the premises and hoping someone’s going to do the right thing with it is baseless," Chris Grollnek, a former law enforcement officer who specializes in security issues told the PBS Newshour. "All you’re doing is signing people up for PTSD."

Trump first proposed arming teachers following the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., that killed 14 students and three staff members, and wounded 17 others.

Administration officials in March said the White House wants to partner with local official to give teachers and other volunteer school personnel "rigorous firearms training," but offered few details on a concept that has been embraced by the National Rifle Association.

Neither the White House nor NRA responded to requests for a comment.

Our ruling

Watts said, "Trained police hit their targets less than 30 percent of the time."

By saying less than 30 percent, Watts is distorting the facts. A national figure for police marksmanship is not readily available. 

Overall, data from some jurisdictions supports Watts’ claim, while other data refutes it. This claim is partially accurate. We rate it Half True.

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Half True
"Trained police hit their targets less than 30 percent of the time."
in a tweet
Monday, May 21, 2018