Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Police Beat: When Use of Deadly Force is acceptable

On Wednesday, Dec. 22 I attended the Dane County Sheriff’s Department Use of Force seminar at MATC West in Madison. Due to the high number of fatal shooting in the state this year (23), the Sheriff’s Department decided to hold the seminar to educate the general public about the decision process officers use and when to use deadly force.

According to Deputy Kelly Rehwoldt, officers can use five different modes to try and control a situation: officer presence, dialogue, control alternatives, protective alternatives and deadly force.

Rehwoldt said roughly 99 percent of the time, a situation can be brought under control through an officer presence or dialogue.

Control alternatives include empty hand control, pepper spray or a Taser, and are used to overcome active resistance or threats.

Protective alternatives are a step above control alternatives and are used to overcome continued resistance, assaultive behavior or threats. Alternatives include focused strikes, diffused strikes and batons.

Finally, officers may use firearms in deadly force when a suspect is exhibiting behavior which has caused or imminently threatens to cause death or great bodily harm to the officer or another person(s). Appropriate instances include when a suspect has a firearm or is charging an officer with a knife.

Rehwoldt stressed that it is up to the officer(s) to determine what mode is appropriate to control the situation.

One part I found interesting was that officers have to make split-second decisions. I mean I know things happen fast, but Rehwoldt said there can be as little as 10 seconds between the time a police officer makes first contact and when the guy goes down in deadly force situations. And a lot can happen in those 10 seconds.

I know a lot of civilians think “oh, can’t the cop just shoot him in the arm or knee? Why kill the person?” I was guilty of thinking that exact thing. But Rehwoldt said an injured individual can still shoot from the ground, which is why officer don’t shoot to kill or harm, but to stop the threat.

The other thing to bear in mind is it takes longer for an officer to react than a suspect to act. So if a man pulls or is holding a gun and the officer perceives a threat, the officer can shoot him/her, because if he/she waits for the suspect to take first action, the officer or others might wind up dead or seriously injured.

Officers can also use deadly force if the suspect gets ahold of their Taser, which makes sense. I definitely wouldn’t want to have the bad guy shooting me with the Taser and taking my gun while I’m down.

Now onto the fun stuff....

After the presentation, we moved on to the participation part...beginning with the Taser. Initially the officers asked if anyone would volunteer to be shot with a Taser. Well since all the other media personnel in attendance were silent, I raised my hand and was like “I’ll do it.”

Course then when I was getting ready to sign a waiver, another guy said he would. Funny, he wasn’t dying to get shot earlier. My theory is he was like, dude, a chick is the only one getting hit with a Taser gun. I can’t let a chick show me up, I need to man up and do this. Course, that is just my opinion.

A couple other people went ahead with the alligator clips instead of the Taser. So those two had clips on their clothes and it lasted three seconds.

Myself and the other guy were actually shot with the Taser, which pierces through clothes, and it lasted five seconds. It’s hard to describe the sensation of a Taser. It was definitely the most painful experience of my life so far. It is like a complete shock to your whole body, a paralyzing pain. The electricity just resonates through your entire body.

Now I’ll admit, I would like to be able to say I was stoic, I was tough...but that would be a lie. I didn’t back out, I didn’t whimper, I didn’t cry, but there is quite a difference between saying you will man up and get shot with the Taser and when it is actually happening. I don’t remember the pain, it was like I was outside of my body, but I do remember screaming at the top of my lungs and yelling “Stop!” I wasn’t the only one who screamed or made noises, but I was definitely the loudest, lol.

And even though I screamed at the top of my lungs, that officer kept going. I asked him afterwards and he was like, “No, I didn’t stop. If I’m paying $25 for a cartridge, you’re getting the full experience.” Sounds cold, but I’m glad. It is a point of pride that I lasted the whole time, even if it did suck.

And afterwards? While once it is done, it’s done. If I had wanted to, I could have gotten back up and fought, not that I would want to. I also felt this tingling all the way in my toes for a good 15 seconds afterwards.

The second and final stage was this armed force simulation. We went into a separate room and they let us try our hand at the FireArms Training Simulator, or FATS.

The simulator is used for police training so trainees have a chance to experience the numerous scenarios and different actions a suspect may take.

For instance, in one simulation, an officer responded to a robbery in progress. When the officer arrived, a female and two male suspects emerged from a store. The female, in the lead, is carrying a gun, and after looking around, raised it to shoot, and the two male suspects dive to either side of her. After she is shot and goes down, the male suspect on the left turns, revealing a gun, and shoots.

The same simulation has two other endings. In one, both the female and the male suspect on the right have guns and fire shots. In the other, all three suspects give up and there is no need for the officer to shoot.

“This is the place where the mistakes should be made,” Rehwoldt said. “We'd rather have an officer see this scenario in training first, then encounter it on the street, rather than having never seen this type of situation before and encountering it for the first time of the street.”


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