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The Face of Danger Is Changing

Published: November 14, 2008

It may soon be a lot easier being the Thug.

Todd Heisler/The New York Times

Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly getting in some practice with his revolver at Police Headquarters, firing at the old figure, known as the Thug.

Related

Will the Real Thug Please Stand Up (March 6, 2005)

 

The familiar old target.

 

The revised version, which is still in the testing phase.

After four decades of being riddled with the bullets of tens of thousands of New York City police officers, the Thug, like cops of a certain age or a great ballplayer’s jersey, may be facing retirement.

“The Thug” is the shorthand name for Advanced Silhouette SP-83A, a target of a gun-wielding man used in police shooting ranges that was created in the early 1960s by a detective with an artistic flair. An effort by The New York Times in 2005 to discover who might have served as the model for the target came up with several competing theories.

Two retired lieutenants, one who commissioned the target and one who collaborated with the detective, said the detective had no single person in mind when he drew the Thug. Others claimed that the target was modeled after a former firearms instructor, Fred V. Worell; a long-gone police officer, Bruno J. Fulginiti; and even the actor Ernest Borgnine, who said then that he has been told many times he resembles the Thug. (Mr. Borgnine, 91, was recovering from knee surgery this week and could not comment for this story, said his agent, Harry Flynn.)

It turns out that the Thug’s undoing was one of the very features that its creators believed made it more effective: its shading. The artists intentionally darkened his torso to make it harder for the officers to see where their bullets struck, which was deemed too distracting.

But new targets are being tested with the opposite effect in mind, said Paul J. Browne, a police spokesman.

“We’re looking to devise a target that’s easier to score from a distance,” he said. “The instructor is correcting or judging how you hit the target. If the area where they want you to hit is lighter, it would be easier to see the hits.”

Mr. Browne said the new target was in development. “We’re not retiring your guy yet,” he said.

The new target, named Mr. Clean in an article on Thursday in Newsday, where rumors of the change were reported, is both a cultural update and, artistically speaking, a bit of a letdown.

Mr. Clean has a shaved head, which is more the fashion than the Thug’s wavy locks.

The little details that make the Thug stand out — the hairy hands, the paunch, the way his track suit bunches up in the waist, the dead-eye squint — are absent in Mr. Clean. Not a hair to be found on the man, nor signs of worry on his unlined brow. There is a light patch around his eyes while his face is mostly dark, as if he fell asleep in the sun. The Thug looked like a guy driven to crime by hard times, a laid-off worker with mouths to feed back home. The new guy, on the other hand, was just born strange.

The Thug could drop this guy with the hand not holding the gun.

Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly agreed. “It lacks personality, that’s for sure,” he said of Mr. Clean. “It lacks hair, lacks a nose, lacks a gun,” he said, a lifetime revolver man’s reference to the low-bore semiautomatic pistol in the target’s hands.

Commissioner Kelly has a long history with the original target. “I have personally shot this thug many times, and he keeps coming around,” he said. “I guess it’s an improvement, but it’ll be a blow to the traditionalists.”

If the original artists’ intention 40 years ago was to create a target that looked like no one, perhaps at last that dream has been realized.