Sometimes police use of force is justified. Other times it isn’t, but one thing is certain – the line between the two scenarios is a slippery slope that’s constantly evolving.
With the Michael Brown, Eric Garner and other high profile cases gaining national headlines, Horry County police say they want officers to be prepared the next time they have to use force to subdue a suspect.
“Whenever a cop kills someone, it’s a big event,” said Lt. Raul Denis, spokesman for county police. “Since Ferguson and New York, it’s a high profile thing. It’s always been high profile.”
To prepare police for real-life scenarios, officers have begun training on a firearms simulator.
Recently acquired through a grant, the $60,000 equipment runs officers through about 100 scenarios, each with five to seven options.
“There are thousands of ways you can go with 100 main programs,” said Lt. Mark Bonner, a training officer with county police.
The machine itself costs about $60,000 and comes equipped with two specially fitted 9 mm guns that cost about $20,000 apiece.
“They look like the real guns that we carry,” Denis said. “They’re the exact make and model.”
The only difference, Denis said, aside from being unloaded, is that they’re fitted with air cartridges tying them into the computer system.
Police have had the new equipment for about six weeks, but training didn’t begin until Tuesday. On Monday, members of the media were shown the gear and allowed to sample it. The gadgets are all part of an effort to train officers about the proper use of force.
In addition to the simulations, police will also take courses in constitutional law, state law and how they apply to use of force.
The same training has been available at the S.C. Criminal Justice Academy. Having it housed in Horry County will not only save money in the long run, but it will also minimize officers’ time away from work, Denis said.
“It will enable us to do a lot of training here quickly and efficiently and get them back on the road,” he said. “Whenever we bring people off the streets for training, it leaves sectors out there unmanned.”
Denis said the definition of proper use of force is constantly changing as police continue to balance public safety with threat of litigation. In other cases, officers may face potential criminal liability.
Former Ferguson, Mo. police officer Darren Wilson, who fatally shot Michael Brown in August 2014, faced grand jury indictments in connection with Brown’s death, but ultimately had the case dismissed.
An officer in the strangling death of Eric Garner faced similar fate, but a New York City grand jury also didn’t deliver an indictment. A civil rights lawsuit, however, is pending.
“We’re totally on the receiving end of everything and everyone,” Denis said. “All we can hope for is to train correctly so our people feel capable and confident. Otherwise we lose and the community loses.”
“The suspects aren’t responsible for their rounds,” said Sgt. Gregory Hutchins with the HCPD. “We are. That’s a big learning point for the officers.”