Shootings Raise Police Training Questions

But Kilman says it is also difficult to predict how an officer will react when placed in a threatening situation. Across the nation, from small towns to large cities like New York and Los Angeles, police forces agree that deadly force should be used when an officer feels his life is being threatened.

When Is it Justified? But the question is always raised when police are involved in a shooting: When is it justified to kill someone? In New York, despite widespread public outcry, a jury decided the four officers were justified in killing the unarmed Diallo — largely because they believed the officers’ testimony that they feared for their lives.

“Almost any officer when he pins his badge on has been trained extensively in what the law mandates when it comes to use of deadly force,” Kilman said. “However, the bottom line is you get an officer out there who gets into a situation that turns violent quickly and you scare that officer bad enough than he goes either into a fight-or-flight mentality.”

Police officers, said John Bowman, an associate professor at the Police Training Institute at the University of Illinois, are trained to fight, not run from a situation.

“There are people out there who need to be shot by the police,” said Bowman, who is an experienced firearms and tactics trainer, who says the problem, actually, might be that police don’t use force often enough. He argues that officers need to do what it takes to protect themselves from harm or death. “The reality is that every day in this country people unlawfully place others in great bodily harm. The problem we have is getting officers to shoot when it is justified.”

‘An Act of Self-Defense’

In the small town of Carnegie, Okla., the community is still debating the fatal shooting in March of an American Indian woman who raised a shovel above her head in a confrontation with a rookie police officer.

The officer, Russell Williams, had had the required nine-week training at Oklahoma’s Council on Law Enforcement and Training (CLEET) program, a course required by the state for all police officers, said police chief, Randall Hileman. The training includes lessons on when to use deadly force, he said. The officer was not charged in that case.

Hileman said he believes Williams, who has since resigned, was justified in using his weapon. The officer, he said, had tried talking to the victim and using pepper spray before firing.

“It was an act of self-defense, ” Hileman said. “It was to the point that either this officer was going to get seriously injured or killed. Even above training, you have to protect yourself and your life.”

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