You’re a law enforcement official. You respond to a call of an active shooter at a restaurant with one other officer and little to no other information. Upon arrival, you hear gunshots. You enter the building to find a person injured on the floor. As you begin to clear each room, you find another individual lying on the floor, in a pool of blood just as footsteps seem to be coming from the other direction. The footsteps are getting closer and a shadow is coming around the corner in your direction.
What do you do? Do you shoot? Or do you wait?
That’s just one of the scenarios Troopers in the southeast Georgia region contemplated over the last weeks during training on the proper use of force. Nearly 40 Troopers cycled through Post 45 on Highway 301 South for the annual training conducted by Assistant Post Commander Corporal Rusty Rankin and Sergeant Rob Sawyer, both certified training officers.
It’s much different than the annual firearms training conducted at the range. It’s the most ‘real’ training law enforcement officers can get, outside of real experience. Troopers practice real-life simulations using a handgun, a shotgun, and an M4 rifle. The program, which resembles an interactive video game, requires Troopers to assess the severity of a situation by engaging with suspects in traffic stops, domestic disputes, and active shooter situations. By offering verbal commands, Troopers practice at what point in the escalating situations with non-compliance to exercise lethal force. Not all of the scenarios required the firing of a weapon, often times just pressing the Trooper to monitor the behavior of the individual in the scenario and watch for varying cues.
Rankin controlled the computer simulations and after each scenario, followed with a series of questions on ‘why’ force was used and why the timing of the use of force was justified. The practicum also gave Troopers an opportunity to be updated about relevant case law pertaining to the situations in question. “Everybody has a tendency to get complacent,” Rankin said. “They think about every traffic stop the same way and they need to get in here and deal with some different situations.”
But the scenarios weren’t just about when to shoot and when not to shoot. With practicums
from inside a patrol car, Troopers were able to incorporate a refresher on awareness of surroundings, like when doing paperwork in an empty parking lot, for instance. In the scenario, the Trooper is writing a report in the car when a man comes from behind a dumpster and begins shooting at the vehicle. The Trooper has very little time to react but is pushed to fight back anyway.
The annual training is available by way of mobile equipment that has been visiting different posts around the state. It allows Troopers to meet the requirements of their training without having to travel to a classroom for a course. Instead, they can take a few hours off the road at their post with the computer program specifically designed for the Georgia State Patrol. The Statesboro Police Department has a similar program on their premises.
GSP shared the equipment with the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office and invited members of the community to test out the scenarios, including Solicitors from the Bulloch County Solicitor’s Office, dispatchers, and members of the media in Bulloch County.
State Court Solicitor Joseph Cushner and Assistant Solicitor Mark Lanier each went through three different scenarios. Cushner said use of force and parameters surrounding such are part of solicitor general training each year as well.
Citizens who conducted the scenarios were generally willing to fire their weapon earlier on in the scenario than the Troopers. Allowing members of the media and local activists to go through agency Use of Force training has been a growing trend in recent years in an effort to demonstrate how quickly situations can change for law enforcement.
Georgia State Patrol Troopers are among the top trained Troopers in the country. Law enforcement engage with an average 63 million Americans each year and increased police scrutiny has led to a call for, and resulted in, more training. Additionally, agencies have instituted body cameras for law enforcement officials in an effort to track force, but a recent study showed that cameras had no impact on how officers engaged with force.