It’s a question which sparks debate and controversy.
Should officers shoot or not when facing down suspects?
Is it the right thing to open fire, or hold back?
Instead of sitting back and asking the questions, I wanted regular folks, including myself to be put behind the badge.
“Gentlemen freeze police!”
Words that officers hope will stop a suspect in his tracks.
But in this simulation, no one stopped, and shots were fired.
Will Martin is a regular citizen who helped give me another perspective on what officers go through when faced with a decision on whether to shoot or not.
“At that point i felt it was time to pull the trigger” explained Martin.
In this case, Major Hal Braswell from the Georgia Public Safety Training center agrees.
“Did he do what would be considered the right thing in this case?”
“Yes,” said Braswell. “Statute 16,3,21 you can defend yourself, you can defend another, and you can stop a forceable felony. That forceable felony was an aggravated assault.”
This scenario seems simple, shoot the guy with the gun, but even through a tv screen, Martin saw the human cost to pulling the trigger.
“There was a feeling of i just killed that guy but at the same time he was about to kill someone else,” said Martin.
“Sir can you turn your music down.”
Loud music and an angry person getting pulled over. What seems like a simple traffic stop, quickly changes..
“He’s actually wanted in California for murder,” as Sgt Gary Murphy of the Chatham County Sheriff’s Department explains the scenario.
So I, as the officer now needs to get him locked up. Easier said than done when i see the gun on his seat.
“Whoa whoa whoa whoa..step away from the car.”
“You are going to tell me what kind of warrant i have,” said the suspect.
“I’m going to tell you to put your hands on the car first. I want you to put your hands on the car.”
“So what you can shoot me in the back?”
“I want both of us to walk away from this situation safely. Thats all im looking for. I want you to walk away, i want to walk away myself”
“Oh i’m going to walk away”
In the end we do walk away. The suspect in mock handcuffs..
But my trainers say I am lucky this was just a simulation..
“You put your hands on the car” explained Murphy. “You actually turned your back to the vehicle rather than backing away.”
“Think about it if he started fighting with you and you had your gun out he could potentially get shot with your own gun.”
So what could i have done differently?
“There’s nothing written in stone that says you have to make an approach on the Driver’s side of that vehicle,” explains Sgt. Darrin Harvey of the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office. “Guess what the driver is doing? He’s looking at the rear view mirror expecting you to come out the driver’s side. Element of surprise. You tap on the window,. Scare the bejeesus out of him.”
Now its Will’s turn to test his skills..
“I told him to cut his engine off he just cut it back on,” said Will Martin.
“You are the police sir.”
“Will you cut your engine off for me.’
“Step back for me.”
“What is going on, what is going on?”
“Step to the back of the car for me.”
“Back up hands up.”
“My hands are up.”
Get down on the ground.”
“I’m not getting on the ground.”
“What do you want now.”
“Stay right there.”
For almost five minutes they go back and forth before will calls for backup..a little too late.
“I’m done im done im done. BAM. I done shot him!” said the suspect.
“When did you know you needed help?” Sgt Murphy asked Martin.
“When they said you were wanted for murder,” Martin explained.
“And did you call for help?” said Murphy.
“In my head i called for help. But at some point i need to let everyone else know i had already called for backup,” explained Martin.
But sometimes there’s no chance for backup.
“The guy actually shot through the trailer at us, we didn’t see him but he knew where we were. Its one of the scariest situation ive ever been in,” remembers Cpl Christopher Blount of the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office.
The fear was real for Cpl Christopher Blount back in February. That’s when Vincent Helmy Junior opened fire on Blount and Deputy Lester Ellerbee. Ellerbee was hit, but survived. Blount says their training helped them make it through.
“A stressful situation like that you have to think on your feet,” explains Blount. “If you don’t think you wont survive,. if you don’t play these scenarios in your mind you wont survive.”
After his training day what does Martin now think about the job, and the men and women who wear the badge.
“Its not always about who can outgun the other one. Sometimes its about logic and reason and having intelligent conversations and intelligent ways of handling crisis situations,” said Martin.
Sheriff’s say the scenarios we went through were actually based on confrontations the deputies involved have actually had themselves.