LAGRANGE, Ga. — A fundamental tenet of police training in the United States is that officers who fire their weapons in response to a deadly threat should always aim for “center mass,” generally the chest. That’s the biggest target and so the easiest to hit. But a bullet that finds its mark there is likely to kill.
The police chief in this picturesque Deep South town says there’s a better approach. Louis Dekmar, who has run the LaGrange Police Department for 26 years, is training his officers to shoot for the legs, pelvis or abdomen in situations where they think it could stop a deadly threat without killing the source of that threat. Doing so, he believes, could make a difference in the more than 200 fatal police shootings nationwide every year that involve individuals armed with something other than a gun.
“Every time we avoid taking a life,” Dekmar says, “we maintain trust….”
In the late 1990s, he instituted mandatory audio recordings of officer-citizen interactions.
In 2004, he began sending his entire force to crisis intervention training so that everyone would know how to de-escalate encounters with people affected by mental illness.
In 2009, he purchased body cameras for his officers,
and in 2017 he made national headlines for apologizing for his agency’s role in a 1940 lynching — by all accounts, the first time a Southern police chief had done so.
Town leaders have consistently invested in the department during his tenure.
“We’re very proud of the work Chief Dekmar has done here,” LaGrange Mayor Jim Thornton said early this month. “He’s a professional with high standards, and we fully support his effort to explore new options.”