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December 30, 2003
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Training To Shoot... Or Not To Shoot

KESQ TV News Channel 3

Palm Springs CA – It can be a split second decision. Shoot or don''t shoot. It''s a choice that Riverside County Sheriff''s deputies make all the time, and it can be a choice with deadly consequences. But how do officers decide when and if they should open fire? NewsChannel 3’s Alex Savidge got an inside look at the intense training that every deputy must go through to carry a badge and a gun.

A suspect on the run with a handgun tucked into his jeans the man turns a corner running into this alley. Now he''s locked into a showdown with an officer.

Seeing a weapon, the officer takes control and tries to defuse the situation.

"Pull that gun up and you’re dead. Put the gun down."

The suspect finally complies with the officers orders and is taken into custody. What could have been a violent situation ends peacefully. And while this all may look real, this entire scenario was only simulated.

"That''s how quickly things can happen."

Chris Waters runs this simulator at the Ben Clark Training Center in Riverside. It''s a computer system that runs hundreds of different real life scenarios on this giant video screen to teach deputies how to react quickly in life or death situations. Officers interact with the simulator and to control a suspect, they can use everything from their pepper spray to their handgun.

That, in this case, only fires off compressed air. Here in this room is where Riverside County Sheriff''s deputies learn when and if they should use lethal force on a suspect. Here, where the stakes aren''t as high as they are on the streets.

"Make sure these officers are prepared," says Waters. "That''s what we''re trying to do."

Now officers often have to decide in a split second whether or not to go for their weapon and open fire on a suspect. And what makes this scenario even more realistic is that this simulator actually shoots back.

It only shoots plastic pellets, but they can leave a mark. Even still, I decided to see how difficult it is for officers to react under pressure in the field. Armed with my pepper spray and gun, I''m thrown into a real life situation. Walking down what looks like a school hallway, I run into a young girl who appears to be shot.

I continue down the hallway, nervous now, and turn the corner to find a crowd of students and what looks like another gunshot victim lying on the floor.

My eyes on the crowd, I don''t see the shooter walking in from the left of the screen.

He fires at me. Finally, I get my weapon unholstered and shoot back.

But my return fire turned out to be too little, too late. On the instant replay you can see my shots came close, but all of them missed their intended target. Afterwards, I go through what deputies call de-briefing.

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For me, deciding whether to shoot or not to shoot in the simulator was a difficult decision. Most trained officers say they have to rely on instincts in the field. But the Sheriff''s Department says there is one hard and fast rule for these officers once they leave this room. If your life is ever threatened, you have the right to protect yourself with lethal force, something I didn''t do until I had already been fired on.

In the field, officers can''t afford to make those mistakes, but in this simulator, at least a mistake won''t cost them their life.



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