GREENSBORO, N.C. - The Greensboro Police Department allowed the media to get an inside look at how it trains its officers to use force. WFMY News 2's Emily Spain learned when it's legal for an officer to shoot a gun and when maybe another type of force like pepper spray is more appropriate. Then, she was put to the test and had to make those split second decisions in a simulation using the Firearm Training System or FATS.
The different scenarios included domestic disturbances, armed intruders in schools and suspicious shoppers. Retired Sgt. Paul Pell is now a firearms instructor. He said the simulations help recruits learn how to deal with the stress in those situations. On average, officers have three to five seconds to make a decision about the use of force.
"So, they'll understand and know how to react to it. They can't stop it, but we give them techniques to be able to deal with it," Pell said.
The recruits are taught how to respond in those events while following the law. Pell said officers are allowed to use force when defending himself or a third party from immediate danger.
"They by the nature of their business are required on some scenes to make split second decisions on whether to use any level of force up to and including deadly force. And we want them to be as well-educated and as well-trained as possible in what is expected of them," Pell said.
GPD requires its recruits to go through 80 hours of firearms training along with countless hours spent learning about other uses of force. Deputy Chief Wayne Scott said he knows police departments are often scrutinized for using force.
"A lot of times we're questioned, why do we use a particular level of force...we answer a level of force based on the force presented to us. So, if someone is coming at you with a knife it's a deadly use of force, an officer is not automatically going to use a lesser or less than lethal use of force because if it fails, they may not have a second chance," Scott said.
Last year, GPD used force in nearly 300 events, but only one incident included firing a gun at someone.
"We try to use everything that is within our grasp not to use force. So, we do train our officers to exhaust all other means before actual force is used," Scott said.
Most officers would prefer to not use force at all, according to Pell. He worked as an officer for 30 years and said he still struggles with the choices he made.
"I was one of those individuals that I thrived on it. I enjoyed it and I'm not saying that it hasn't negatively impacted me over the long run. I have high blood pressure. I've had sleepless nights. I still have sleepless nights from time to time," he said.
For more statistics on the police department's use of force click here for GPD's Annual Professional Standards Report.