Lynchburg, VA- In light of the fatal police-involved shooting in Ferguson, MO, we wanted to know more about how police officers are trained in the use of deadly force. It's a major part of law enforcement curriculum, and as we found out, has many facets.
Officer training is based off the 1989 Supreme Court ruling in Graham vs Connor. That set guidelines for when an officer should use force. The guidelines however, are just a part of what an officer has to consider when faced with a threatening situation.
"It's a lot of decision-making that has to happen in a snap," said Tony Martin, an instructor for Central Virginia Criminal Justice Academy.
The Lynchburg Police lieutenant has been teaching at the Central Virginia Criminal Justice Academy for 20 years. His specialty is use of force.
"Firearms instructor, taser instructor, pretty much the whole gambit of use of force, I instruct," said Martin.
He says use of force is a major part of training. There are two, three-pronged tests cadets must learn to determine what kind of force to use and when. Martin says they do teach officers to use force until the threat stops.
"When you're confronted with a threat, and you have chosen that deadly force is the threat, deadly force is my response. So when I use my firearm, I will shoot until the threat stops," said Martin.
A lot of times, Martin says that means more than one shot, a misperception by many, maybe thanks to Hollywood interpretations.
"When a bullet hits a human body, it doesn't cause a body to blow backwards or any of those things. Many times, and there have been many documented cases, suspects who have been shot numerous times and continued to fight."
Training teaches officers to not only shoot, but shoot smart. Martin says they aim at the torso because it's the biggest target, and most debilitating when hit.
"A shot to the arm, for a focused attacker, that's not going to stop anyone," said Martin.
Other factors that come into use of force equation are gender and size. A video shown during officer training of a female officer being assaulted shows what can happen when the matchup is uneven. And, a final consideration when using force, is whether an officer has been injured.
"That plays into, can I use a higher level of force because I am now injured and the attack is continuing," said Martin.
Graham vs Connor also says that if an officer uses force, they are judged based on the information they have at the time. What they, or the public, learn later about a situation should not be considered.