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The Soulis Incident, and the Myth of Center Mass

This article from popped up on my Facebook feed this morning, and it struck me as important in more ways than one:

To summarize: bad guy in a car, cop decided he was a suspicious person and went to investigate; stuff went sideways, lots of shots were fired, cop was hit 3-4 times, bad guy was hit 22 (Twenty-Two) times with 40 caliber bullets and eventually succumbed.

For you coppers who follow my stuff, this may have some lessons for you in your continuing upgrade of your felony carstop/vehicle approach tactics, so look it over carefully. For everybody else, there are some terminal ballistics/effects lessons here that need to be understood.

First thing: the author of this piece, Brian McKenna, is a guy I’ve read before and I think he does a pretty good job. He’s a good writer and a former street cop with some real experience behind him.

Second thing, and to my mind, the most important thing: Brian uses terms like center chest and Center Mass like they are actually meaningful. Saying “Center Mass” sounds cool… it has the sound of the expert about it, I guess. But these terms are ANYthing but meaningful. They are not clearly defined, not clearly understood, and the result of this is that good people are getting injured and killed.

That’s right, I said it: if you persist in teaching your people to shoot “center mass”, YOU are contributing to a training scar that is going to get good cops/armed citizens KILLED.

I have multiple cases in my files that illlustrate this problem. Every one of my SXRV students for the past 10 years has seen my breakdown of the Pennsylvania OIS where the scumbag cop-ambusher absorbed nearly 22 police bullets (17 rounds of .223 and 5 rounds of 40 S&W) before he finally went down. So every one of my SXRV students knows that by shooting for Center Mass the coppers in that incident experienced a failure that resulted in the wounding and permanent disability of one of them, and could have led to their deaths. The FBI broke down the gunfight at the request of the Agency in question, and to no one’s surprise, they blamed the ammunition for the bad outcome of that fight. (The actual blame should have been placed squarely on the Agency’s firearms training program for failing to train their officers appropriately, but that would have been embarassing. It’s easier to blame ammo, since ammo doesn’t have feelings to get hurt or a career to get sidetracked.)

But it wasn’t bad ammo. The ammunition performed as it was designed to do, and the FBI proved this. It was bad shooting, which wasn’t the cops’ fault, because they had received faulty training. Despite the fact that Tactical Anatomy Systems and other trainers have been training cops on anatomically effective target acquisition for more than 20 years, the majority of cops and LE firearms instructors are still propagating the same old Center Mass bullshit.

And bullshit it is. Don’t believe me? Get you copy of Gray’s Anatomy out and look up Center Mass in the index. (What? It’s not there?!? How could that be?) Center Mass isn’t a place, or an anatomic structure, or a physiological zone of incapacitation. Center Mass is a bullshit police trainer term that means nothing more than “shoot them somewhere in the middle”. People use it to sound cool, like they know what they’re talking about, like they’re experts. It’s not just a bullshit term, folks: it’s a term better suited to use by posers than by actual trainers.

Here’s an interesting story: in my early years of teaching Tactical Anatomy, I would ask class members to write down their definition of Center Mass on a piece of paper and hand it in. I stopped doing it after a couple classes, because the results were predictable. No one could define Center Mass with any precision, and the average answer basically came down to “in the middle”.

Twenty years into this training business I am still amazed that people think it’s OK to just teach their students to shoot an armed opponent in this manner. “Oh, don’t worry about it, just shoot somewhere in the middle. You’ll be fine.” (Poser.)

If you were to walk into the bar in any hunting town in Zimbabwe or Mozambique, order up a Pimm’s with ginger, and then tell the assemblage of African dangerous game hunters that it’s OK to just shoot a Cape Buffalo “somewhere in the middle”, you’d be laughed out of the saloon, chum. DG hunters know that when you’re trying to kill something that could very easily kill you, it is essential that you put your bullets where that dangerous creature’s life depends: the heart/great vessels, the spine, or the brain. Failure to do so will not only fail to incapacitate the beast, it just might enrage him and cause an attack on your person that you very likely won’t survive.

Yet law enforcement trainers persist in telling cops that they can shoot an armed and dangerous felon–arguably the most dangerous of dangerous game on Earth–“anywhere in the middle” and expect a good outcome!!

How has this become acceptable practice? In fact, how does this not constitute malpractice? We are arming our police with deadly implements, teaching them the law of the application of those implements, then failing to teach them where their bullets need to be placed, with precision, in order to carry out their lawful duty in the most effective and efficient manner possible!

If YOU are a deadly force firearms instructor and you are doing this, I submit that you are committing malpractice. You are creating a training scar in your students that might get them killed.

I’ve had police firearms instructors tell me that teaching their people where to shoot the bad guy is ridiculous. “They’ll be so fired up in a gunfight, they’ll be lucky to hit the bad guy at all, so we teach them just to shoot Center Mass.”

Did it ever occur to one of these Neanderthal (no offense to Neanderthals, mind you) that this failure to teach precise target acquisition is precisely why their officers can’t hit the bad guy in an officer-involved shooting? Did they never hear the marksman’s axiom, “Aim small, miss small”?

Here’s what I think when I hear a firearms instructor use the term Center Mass: I think they are ignorant, and probably lazy.

Are you insulted by that? Too bad. Prove to yourself and to me that your umbrage is justified. Look at the OIS data, as I have; read the after action reviews, as I have. The evidence shows that officers who know where to shoot the bad guy are able to end the encounter faster and more effectively than those who simply try to hit the bad guy “in the middle”. Well-trained officers have a higher hit ratio, they stop the offender more effectively, and they are less likely to be shot or killed in the encounter than officers who are not so trained. The data don’t lie.

The first major metropolitan police department that adopted the SXRV program for their entire force did so nearly 20 years ago. They dropped the Center Mass nonsense and adopted 3D anatomic targeting as their standard. Their OIS hit ratio went from 20% to 94% in the first 2 years after the program was implemented, and remains above 90% to this day. More importantly to my mind, in that same 2 year period not one cop was hit by a felon’s bullet. And these numbers have been repeated in other police departments across America since then numerous times.

Here’s the deal, kids: Center Mass is a term that has been in the vocabulary of deadly force trainers waaaaaay too long. There is no excuse for continuing to use this term. “Center Mass” should never be uttered by a firearms instructor anywhere, any time, except to correct their students who come to class believing in the myth. There is far too much information out there proving that teaching our students to shoot this way is leading to bad outcomes in OIS’s and it’s getting good cops injured and killed. It should be as hated as the dreaded C-word or the N-word is in public conversations. It’s a useless concept, and the persistence by our instructors in using it needs to go away.