SPECIAL REPORT: How to Choose, Shoot or Don’t Shoot?

Will Martin facing down a suspect with a knife

Life or death.

Every day officers and deputies walk out of their homes knowing they may be faced with that decision.

But how tough is their job?

Could i do it?

Could you make those decisions?

The only way to know is by putting on the badge and holding the gun yourself.

Its starts with a gun, a screen, a scenario.

Major Hal Braswell from the Georgia Public Safety Training Center, puts me in the same spot as any officer, in the line of fire.

“We are going to give you a background on what kind of call you will ride, then you will have to handle the call.” said Major Hal Braswell of GPSTC.

In this case a bank robbery in progress. Three robbers and me.

“Stop, put your weapons down.”

Will Martin in GPSTC simulator
Will Martin in GPSTC simulator


The woman in the middle points the gun.. i fire the fatal shots.

But its not finished, my gun is down, but another suspect rises up, and fires. Only to be met by my bullets again.

Now its time to critique my performance..

“She walked out of that door with a gun and you did what a normal person would do, you defended yourself,” said Major Braswell.

“You dropped your handgun, you weren’t covering off on the other two armed robbery suspects.”

Two suspects shot – but so was I.

This video scenario, one of the tool used by GPSTC as part of their 11 week training course for new officers. The goal, to grade their decisions, not their shooting accuracy.

“When you arrive on scene you find an open back door then you enter the building to try and clear it make sure nothings happening,” Braswell details.

This time its not a reporter, but a citizen, Will Martin. Martin is skeptical about police practices, and wanted to test himself, and the system.

“Put your hands up, put your hands up – show me your hands.” sayd Martin, gun raised, just seconds before he fires.

In Will’s case it wasn’t a gun, but a stapler this suspect was wielding. Leaving him with some explaining to do.

“I thought my actions were reasonable because i was giving clear commands repeatedly to him to avoid him being hurt and to protect myself. I needed to see his hands,” explained Martin.
“Absolutely, that sounds very fair.” responded Braswell.

“What went through your mind when you realized it was a staple gun?”
“Why didn’t he listen to the commands,” says Martin. “I didnt want to shoot this guy. But at the sdame time i want to go home at the end of the night. It was a tough decisiom to make in a split second.”

But that’s all any officer has, a moment to decide if this will end in handcuffs or gunfire..

“Pulling the trigger, its instinctive,” thinks Martin. “Its like i could die right now if i dont do this.”

But shooting a movie screen is like a video game.. what is the difference out in the field with real people involved.

In this case Will and I will have the same gun. Go through the same simulation, same suspects… actual Chatham County Sheriff’s Deputies.

“You are going to respond to a suspicious person and there have been a lot of vehicle break ins in the area,” explains CCSO Sgt Gary Murphy.

Andrew Davis facing down a suspect with a gun
Andrew Davis facing down a suspect with a gun
Sgt gary Murphy explaining what went right, and wrong
Sgt gary Murphy explaining what went right, and wrong

“They say you are causing trouble. Why you walking away from me..walk towards me,” I say as i walk slowly toward and after the suspect.

As she walks away the camera sees the gun.. i dont…yet.

“Ma’am you have a gun,” I tell the suspect.
“You have one too”
“I’m an officer of the law Put your gun down. Put your gun down.”
“I’ve been watching the news I know what you cops been doing.”
“I’m not doing anything. Im just trying to understand whats going on. I’ll lower my weapon if you will put yours down. Why wont you put the gun down?’
“Naw naw im tired of this.” She then points the gun at me, and we both open fire.

The suspect is dead, but was it the right thing to do?

“You should have called for backup,” sayd Sgt Murphy. “You should have used the radio saying you had a suspect who had a weapon.”
“Action is always going to beat reaction. Because when she brought the gun up its almost too late for you.”

“You probably could have been more forceful in your tone,” explains Investigator Alicyn Whaley, the “suspect”. “Ok he’s serious..i am tired of this and raised the weapon.”

So faced with the same belligerent suspect..what will Martin do?

“Put your hands in the air for me,” he tells her.
“What did i just do?”
“You haven’t done anything yet.”
“I see how you like to shoot people in the back,” says Whaley.
“We are trying to avoid that right now. I need you to stop,” Martin says, gun raised.
“Drop it ma’am, drop the knife, drop the knife”
“I need some money so this will be a good lawsuit,” she responds.

Seconds later Martin shoots, killing the suspect who had a knife, but never threatened him.

“Did she make an overt act toward you?” asks Murphy.
“No she did not.”
“And all she was doing was holding the knife you were saying put the knife down put the knife down. We could have stayed like that all day until she made an overt act to come toward you right?” continues the Sgt.
“So in that case you probably used deadly force when you shouldn’t have.”

Because the suspect had a weapon, Will, the officer could have been in danger.

But some people will say she was too far away to hurt anyone with her knife, especially an officer with a gun..

But the law says 21 feet is the “danger zone” for officers.

We wanted to test that out..

Will vs the suspect, from 21 feet away.

Before you know it the suspect has reached Martin, even before he reaches for his gun.

“And you knew he was actually going to do that right?” asks Murphy.
“Right” says Martin.
“Think actually how you would feel if you didnt know he was going to do that,” Murphy asks. “If you actually didnt know. this was a suspicous person you were talkling it and he started running at you. Not only would he be running at you but you realized he had a knife.”

“Human reaction time comes into play when you have 21 feet and you have seconds to get your act toegther or get stabbed,” says Martin. “Its an overwhelming sense of panic.”

Of course the intensity would only be heightened when real bullets are involved, but Sheriff’s say the scenarios we went through we actually based on confrontations the Deputies involved have actually had themselves.

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