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Pittsburgh police bullets not lacking power, FBI test shows

| Tuesday, April 23, 2013, 12:07 a.m.

Whatever is keeping some crime suspects fighting after police shoot them five to 10 times, the problem isn't with the ammunition, Pittsburgh police said on Monday.

In an email to the department, Deputy Chief Paul Donaldson said the FBI Ballistic Research Facility concluded in a test last week that the ammo “is consistent with (its) expectations of this cartridge.”

Police officials said during a news conference on April 12 that they would ask for a test of their .40-caliber handgun ammunition because officers had raised concerns about the bullets' firepower after two high-profile incidents in which suspects were hit multiple times but kept fighting.

The FBI said the results of the test were similar to one in 2006, Donaldson said in the email. The tests examined ballistic performance through gelatin that's meant to simulate human tissue and measure accuracy and velocity.

Donaldson told the Tribune-Review that the ammo performed “up to expectations.”

“There's no problem with the cartridge,” he said.

R. Paul McCauley, professor emeritus of criminology at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, said the results of the test could point to another problem.

“If it has been answered that the ammo is good, then I think the issue becomes firearm accuracy,” he said.

Officers undergo yearly firearms testing on a range, Donaldson said, where they have to fire a given number of shots at targets of varying distances. If they don't post an acceptable score, they go through remedial training to meet state requirements.

Firearms experts said it is not unusual for it to take multiple shots to stop a suspect.

“The .40-caliber round is a very effective round,” said Ken Cooper, a certified firearms instructor and training coordinator at THT of New York, a handgun training school. “It's a good round for law enforcement. It's not the failure of the round, it's not the failure of the police officer. Many people don't realize you have to shoot somebody multiple times. ... Sometimes a person does not want to die today, and it takes a lot of rounds to stop them from a deadly action.”

Cooper and Emanuel Kapelsohn, vice president of the International Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors, said bullets must strike the central nervous system, break an important bone such as the pelvis or cause cardiovascular damage — bleeding — to stop a suspect. Even with a bullet in the heart, a person still “can be aggressive for 20, 30, 40 seconds or more,” Kapelsohn said.

“It is not at all unusual for someone who has been shot multiple times with a handgun to continue to fight,” Kapelsohn said. “You can fire a handgun at a rate of four to five rounds per second. If someone — after being shot right through the heart — has 15 seconds, they can easily fire 50 to 60 shots in that time.”

Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1 raised concerns after a shooting March 17 in which police said Dante Bonner, 18, fired at Officer Christopher Kertis despite Bonner being hit about 10 times during a gun battle in East Liberty. Those concerns heightened on April 11 when Officer Morgan Jenkins was critically injured in a shootout with a fleeing suspect in Homewood, identified by police as James Robert Hill, 24. Police shot Hill as many as five times — in the chest, hip, leg, wrist and possibly in the finger.

Hill fired several shots and struck Jenkins once. The bullet hit him in the left arm and traveled into his chest, nicked his lung and stopped close to his spine, police said. Doctors removed the bullet, but Jenkins remains hospitalized and is undergoing spinal injury rehabilitation.

Hill was released from the hospital on Friday and moved to the Allegheny County Jail, Acting Cmdr. Kevin Kraus said.

“We're glad to hear it's not a problem with that ammunition, but we're looking at everything,” said Officer Eric Engelhardt, chairman of the department's Officer Safety Committee. “It's consistent, but is it bare minimum penetration?”

Pittsburgh police chose the Federal Premium Law Enforcement HST .40-caliber ammunition in 2008 based on an FBI comparison study. Acting Chief Regina McDonald said Philadelphia police use the same ammunition. A police spokeswoman there refused to answer questions because she said it was sensitive information.

The FBI ballistics test involves shooting gelatin through light and heavy clothing, and through several objects including plywood, sheetrock, a metal meant to simulate a vehicle and windshield glass, Kapelsohn said.

“All the major companies are making their police-duty ammo to meet these tests,” he said. “Most of the major brand ammo is very goo,d and the Federal HST is one of the very best there is. Unfortunately, you may carry one of the very best rounds there is and still have this case.”

Margaret Harding is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8519 or mharding@tribweb.com.

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