June 22, 2020


In today’s Critical Issues Report, PERF addresses an important reform on police use of force that is receiving news media attention as cities and states across the nation review their policies:  a ban on shooting at vehicles.

Some news stories are presenting this as a new idea, but it actually dates to 1972, when it was enacted by the New York City Police Department, and where it resulted in an immediate sharp reduction in officer-involved shootings that has continued to this day.

In 2016, PERF adopted this policy as one of our 30 Guiding Principles on Use of Force.

The policy, as stated in PERF’s report, is straightforward:

“Agencies should adopt a prohibition against shooting at or from a moving vehicle unless someone in the vehicle is using or threatening deadly force by means other than the vehicle itself.”

An Update to Account for Terrorist Incidents

PERF has since added one new exception to the rule, based on terrorist attacks including those in Nice, France and New York City, in which terrorists used trucks to run down victims.  The updated policy is as follows:

“Agencies should adopt a prohibition against shooting at or from a moving vehicle unless someone in the vehicle is using or threatening deadly force by means other than the vehicle itself, or the driver is attempting to use the vehicle as a weapon of mass destruction in an apparent terrorist attack.”

The ban on shooting at vehicles has been adopted in many cities, including Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, Denver, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC.

John Timoney, whose career included service as Chief of Department in the NYPD, Police Commissioner in Philadelphia, and Chief of Police in Miami, was a young officer in the Bronx when the policy took effect in 1972. In PERF’s Guiding Principles report, he recalled the sharp reaction to the policy, and the impact it had:

“The controversy was intense. The police union strenuously objected, saying that the policy would endanger officers and that the department was caving to community pressure. The news media fanned the flames, taking one side or the other, depending on their point of view.

“What nobody expected was how quickly the policy caused police shootings to plummet. The policy took effect in August 1972. In 1972, there were 994 shooting incidents involving NYPD officers. The numbers for September–December, immediately after the policy took effect, were down about 40 percent compared to the January–August figures. The following year, total shootings numbered 665 —a 33-percent reduction in the first year. Those numbers have continued to decline to this day. Fatal shootings show a similar pattern.”

The numbers of officer-involved shooting incidents in New York City have remained at historical lows, with 67 incidents in 2015, 72 in 2016, 52 in 2017, 35 in 2018, and 52 in 2019.

Unfortunately, many department have not adopted the strict limits on shootings at cars, and these incidents continue to make up a sizeable share of fatal officer-involved shootings nationwide, accounting for 64 of the 1,001 fatal OIS incidents in 2019, and 25 of the 490 incidents so far in 2020, according to the Washington Post’s “Fatal Force” database.

PERF continues to support the adoption of policies banning shooting at or from a moving vehicle, with the specific exceptions described above.


The PERF Critical Issues Report is part of the Critical Issues in Policing project, supported by the Motorola Solutions Foundation.


PERF also is grateful to the Howard G. Buffett Foundation for supporting this work.

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