The national unrest continues, months after the officer-involved deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.
However, following the deaths of two New York City cops who were killed in retaliation, many police are now raising their voices as well.
So what’s it really like in the heat of the moment with a gun drawn? We get exclusive access inside one of Louisiana’s largest training centers to take a closer look.
The 100,000 square foot warehouse in Harvey is home to one of the largest and most high-tech law enforcement training facilities in the state. It’s where Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s deputies learn to make split-second and sometimes life or death decisions.
JPSO Sheriff Newell Normand explains, “Many times there’s this misnomer and I think people are watching TV too much, that we just sit back and do nothing. Because we’re not paid to get spit on, we’re not paid to be shot at, we’re not paid to be punched and we’re not paid to be kicked.”
Sheriff Normand says law enforcement is given tools to address threats and it’s his job to train deputies to use them. His center houses a massive indoor range with extensive capabilities including various distances, obstacles and lighting. Flip a switch and the flashing lights would disorient almost anyone.
Deputies can also train in a shoot house or the small, dark room that houses a virtual firearms training simulator called F.A.T.S.
That’s where I get a lesson, first-hand, in high-pressure.
Firearms Instructor and Commander of Range and Armory, Captain Jeff Eddy, shows me the ropes. “If they talk to you, we want you talking to them,” Eddy explains. “If you feel the need to use your weapon, by all means, use your weapon.”
As Capt. Eddy takes me through each scenario, the program reacts in real time to my decisions. We review the scenario and it immediately becomes clear that while I may be a good shot, I woefully neglect critical steps.
I don’t call for back-up, request an ambulance or even bother to find cover. Sheriff Normand says, that’s the point. Better training in house means better decisions in the field.
It’s a lesson he learned early in his career.
The Sheriff recalls what appeared to be a hostage situation in New Orleans. “There’s a guy that had a woman with his arm around her neck and a gun. I hit the corner, stopped, popped the door open, pulled my weapon, he turned.”
Come to find out, it wasn’t a gun. The man had a water pistol. One second later and that innocent, unarmed man could have been dead.
“Had I not saw the water coming out of the end of the gun, I would have been perfectly justified in shooting him. And it would have been tragic.”
JPSO Crisis Counselor, Dr. James Arey describes officers as, “brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, children.” He says, “they come from the same community that they police. So to do something like this, it’s a terribly traumatic event and it stays with them forever.”
Dr. Arey argues, that’s why so many officers leave law enforcement after a deadly incident and the reason their suicide and alcohol rates are higher than the national average.
So how does one determine if an officer’s use of force is justified? Sheriff Normand says it’s case-by-case and very fact-specific. When deciding, officers are given ‘qualified immunity,’ which is basically, how would a reasonable person react to that same set of circumstances.