Originally created 04/28/00

Training sharpens skills of law officers



It was billed by the instructor as a simple traffic stop simulation -- a video of a woman reaching into her car for her driver's license.

But when the woman quickly pulls her wallet out of the car, it appears for a moment that she is pulling a black handgun. Most officers not noticing the difference would immediately draw the simulator's mock gun and use deadly force.

"Ninety-nine percent of the time, she gets shot," said instructor Jim Shipp of the Richmond County Sheriff's Department Training Center.

The video simulation, Judgmental Pistol Shooting, is run by a computer and registers the time it takes someone to draw his weapon and where shots landed.

It helps deputies and investigators not only sharpen their reflexes and instincts in scenarios that could occur on the street, but also improve their judgment of when to fire their weapons.

"We're responsible for each and every bullet that leaves a gun," Mr. Shipp said.

This week and next, the sheriff's department is requiring officers, especially road patrol, to undergo judgment training for situations where firearms are involved.

The exercises are part of monthly in-service training that is required by the department and one of four times where firearms judgment is the focus.

"(The training) benefits the

road patrol especially," said Deputy Robert Fogle. "The more we do, the better we get at it and we become more efficient."

Officers undergo three different exercises that involve situations where they would draw their guns.

In one, two officers run 30 to 40 yards and do 10 push-ups before an instructor gives them a description of two armed burglary suspects.

The officers then run down to two patrol cars and simulate pulling over a suspect, played by another instructor.

At the final stage, officers shoot targets matching their suspects' descriptions while moving objects represent private citizens in the line of fire.

Another physical exercise requires a deputy to move a disabled vehicle nearly 40 feet off of a mock road before being told the name of a color by an instructor. The designated color represents a weapon-related danger and if the officers see a balloon matching that color in the three simulation rooms they enter, they draw their weapons and fire.

"We're just trying to get as much stress and get their hearts going as much as we can so that they can handle themselves on a real call," instructor David James said.

But while the video and course simulations give officers close to authentic experiences, it still cannot fully prepare them for the real thing, said Capt. Ray Myers of the sheriff's department.

"Once you fire a round, it's yours forever," he said. "We just try to get the point across how easy it is to make a mistake."

Reach Mark Mathis at (706) 823-3227.