The assailant comes out the door firing. You take him down……you missed the guy with the rifle coming out the back door. Your wife is a widow and your children — fatherless. It’s not just a scenario. It’s potential reality in the life of a law enforcement officer.
“If you don’t make the right decision, if you hesitate, you might not be around to fix that mistake,” Scioto County Sheriff Marty V. Donini said just outside of a training session conducted by the Northeast Counter Drug Training Center out of Pennsylvania. “What’s important about the training is that it is just what’s going on in society now.”
The computer simulator projected on a large screen, shows hits, misses and fatal gunfire results. Each scenario is discussed with the officers to ensure understanding, policy and procedure.
Donini said officers are now being required to receive more and better training in lethal force.
“We are given as much scenario and experience as we can, before, if and when it does happen,” Donini said. “Hopefully it never does happen.”
The training, in a training room at the Scioto County Sheriff’s Office, is over a three-day period in which each officer watches a screen and reacts to a scenario he or she has never seen before in both a single and a group situation. Immediately after the scenario the numbers come on the screen to show how many times you fired, if you did fire, and how many times you hit the target, listing lethal shots separately.
“Usually in most officers’ careers it never happens,” Donini said. “I’ve been involved in one shooting and I’ve been here 38 years. The one I was involved in was probably 2 1/2 years after I was hired here. Never been in one since. So very rarely does it happen, but you have to make that decision and this gives you opportunities to go through scenarios.”
In a court room, attorneys can slow the scenario down and talk about the decision-making process and what the officer should have looked for and the care he or she should have taken in deciding whether to use lethal force or not. In reality, most such situations occur in the blink of an eye.
“There is a big difference,” Donini said. “The big difference is, if I make the wrong decision, I may be dead. If I make the wrong decision, someone else may be dead. You have to feel threatened to the point that you may lose your life. Somebody sticking a gun in your face, that’s good to go. But when you go to court they have that luxury of being able to slow everything down — you could have done this, you could have done that — I think morally nobody wants to kill another individual, but I also believe nobody wants to die in most cases.”
As lethal situations have evolved over the years, shootings often involve people who do not have a fear of dying.
“That makes our job more difficult,” Donini said. “It’s not just in other countries, it’s here too. There’s a lot of people out there that have no hope, they have no future and that creates a problem because they devalue life more than you and I and that makes our job more difficult because they don’t care whether they live or die and they don’t care whether I live or die or any other officer lives or dies.”
In a day in which police officers are being killed in an almost daily basis, what has that done to the field of potential officers?
“We have three vacancies right now,” Donini said. “In my 38 years, we’ve never been three short on the road and we are and that’s part of it, plus – not only the fact that why would somebody want to do this? The other thing is, we’ve elevated our standards as to who we’re going to hire too because it’s not the same world it was 30 years ago. The last three people that we hired, all had a little experience, maybe a year-and-a-half or so, and that’s what we’re looking for, somebody that’s been out there.”
Captain Shawn Sparks took the training as well, and said he benefited from it.
“I learned that I’ve been in this job so long that I think I might be getting a little bit complacent,” Sparks said. “And this brought me up to speed as far as what you’re seeing on TV.”
Were the scenarios timely?
“It was just like you are really there and you want to help these people and sometimes you can’t,” Sparks said. “You just do what you can do.”
Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.