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Law enforcement firearms protocol calls for deadly force

  • Santa Rosa Police Lt. Lance Badger on Wednesday holds the replica 'airsoft' AK-47 assault rifle carried by Andy Lopez, left, next to an actual AK-47, right. The guns were displayed during a news conference led by Lt. Paul Henry, left, in Santa Rosa. (JOHN BURGESS/ PD)

Three-quarters of a second.

That's how long a law enforcement officer typically has to decide whether to use deadly force when confronted with a threat to his or her life.

Officers are trained to shoot to “eliminate” the threat if they feel their lives or the lives of their partners are in danger, according to ex-police officers, training consultants and experts on the use of force by law enforcement.

Fatal Deputy-Involved Santa Rosa Shooting

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In an era that has faced a scourge of gun violence, officers are trained to take every threat seriously.

Experts familiar with preliminary details of the investigation said the veteran Sonoma County sheriff's deputy who shot and killed a Santa Rosa teenager carrying a BB gun that resembled an AK-47 assault rifle was following protocol widely used by law enforcement agencies.

The deadly incident unfolded Tuesday when two deputies drove up behind 13-year-old Andy Lopez as he walked through his southwest Santa Rosa neighborhood with an airsoft gun, which shoots plastic BBs. A deputy ordered the teen to drop the gun. As Lopez turned, the barrel of his BB gun pointed toward the officers, according to investigators. The senior deputy fired eight shots at the boy, hitting him seven times, police said.

The other deputy, also a veteran law enforcement officer but new to the Sheriff's Office, faced the same split-second decision and chose not to fire.

In the aftermath, many have questioned why the deputy who fired his handgun did not try to disable Lopez by aiming for his legs or arms.

The most effective way to stop a threat is to shoot a suspect in the body, or “center mass,” several experts said. A shot to the leg may not neutralize a suspect with a gun, they say, and shooting the gun out of a suspect's hand is the stuff of movies.

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