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Trading places: Student officers learn about using deadly force

Citizens Police Academy pupils head to shooting range

NOW Reporter Shakara Robinson learns the workings of a Sig-Sauer Model 226 40-caliber handgun under the instruction of Elm Grove police officer Eric Schmitt during “range day” of the Elm Grove Citizens Police Academy held at a law enforcement shooting range Saturday in Germantown.

NOW Reporter Shakara Robinson learns the workings of a Sig-Sauer Model 226 40-caliber handgun under the instruction of Elm Grove police officer Eric Schmitt during “range day” of the Elm Grove Citizens Police Academy held at a law enforcement shooting range Saturday in Germantown. Photo By Peter Zuzga

May 8, 2013

Each time a headline rolls on television or in newspapers about a deadly, officer-involved shooting, the first question many ask is, "Was that necessary?"

My classmates and I learned the rules surrounding using deadly force during week five of the Elm Grove Citizen Police Academy.

On Wednesday, Sgt. Jason Kubiak and officer Eric Schmitt reviewed cases of fatal officer-involved shootings in Fox Point, Wauwatosa and Oak Creek.

To shoot or not shoot

"Deadly force decisions have to be made within seconds," Kubiak said.

My classmate Barbara Noel learned that firsthand during an outdoor exercise. Schmitt pretended to be a bad guy in the woods.

Each mock officer was given a training gun with small paint bullets.

Schmitt wore protective gear on his head, arms, legs - and other assets.

Kubiak set up the scenario: A man is in Village Park after hours. It's dark. He refuses to leave. An officer approaches. The man pulls out an object.

Barbara had to decide right then - shoot or don't shoot?

During her turn in the exercise, Schmitt posed as a suicidal man in the bushes. When Barbara questioned him, he pulled out a (fake) gun and held it to his head.

Barbara thought it was safe to come closer, her gun drawn, since he was pointing the gun at himself, but as she got closer, he turned it on her.

Then we all heard the gunshot.

"I'm dead!" Barbara yelled, as she pulled the trigger on the training weapon, hitting Schmitt in the abdomen.

"I never thought he would turn the gun on me," Barbara said after the exercise, her heart racing. "You're scared, and your adrenaline is running."

Barbara also said she didn't notice she had started walking toward Schmitt, and couldn't recall the exact events from start to finish.

During another exercise, Schmitt pulled out a cellphone and pointed it at a mock officer.

Fortunately, that officer had keen eyes and didn't immediately shoot.

When to use deadly force

Kubiak and Schmitt took us back to the classroom, where we reviewed the guidelines and training officers receive on using deadly force.

Just because someone whips out a gun or weapon doesn't mean an officer is authorized to immediately shoot.

That surprised many of my classmates.

"It's action vs. reaction," Kubiak explained. "You need three things: intent, weapon and delivery."

Both officers reviewed scenarios in which deadly force would and would not be appropriate.

An officer must be able to justify why deadly force was employed using the defined criteria.

For example, if a person pulls out a knife or gun, points it at an officer and says, "I am going to shoot you," there is intent (the verbal threat), a weapon (the gun) and delivery (the person can pull the trigger and deliver on his or her verbal threat).

Target acquisition, identification and isolation also are important factors.

A person making threats while standing in a crowd of people may not be the most ideal situation for an officer to start firing.

Remember, an officer carries pepper spray and a stun gun in addition to a firearm.

Deadly force is not always the automatic choice.

At the gun range

After that eye-opening class, we took it to the gun range.

Kubiak, Schmitt and officer Evan Schano met the class at an outdoor law enforcement gun range in Germantown.

Each of them demonstrated four weapons that Elm Grove officers use: a .40-caliber sub-machinegun, a .40-caliber handgun, a 12-gauge short-barreled shotgun and a selective-fire short-barreled rifle (AR-15).

The officers explained the primary or ideal use for each weapon and took their time in showing us how to work them.

Then, we set up paper targets and had at it. This was my first time firing a weapon.

The small pistol had the most kickback. The AR-15, once properly adjusted for my petite arms, had the least, in my opinion. The shotgun was a bit too long for me, but I handled it well.

Everyone took turns firing each weapon under the watchful eye of trained officers, shells and the smell of gun powder filling the air.

Even after practicing at the range, I can't imagine having to properly position a gun, identify my target and shoot at a person in a high-stress situation, and my classmates agreed.

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