SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Utah) Whenever there is a police involved shooting, people begin to analyze what happened. Some ask things like - why didn't they shoot in the leg? And why didn't they just use a taser? In this week's Behind the Badge we learn more about police gun training. And we preface this story with the fact that this is just a conversation with a training officer and just a fraction of what officers undergo and learn.
We caught up with Sergeant Brady Cottam and watched him on the gun range and is quite accurate with a gun and in a simulator. Nearly every bullet or simulated bullet hit it's mark. That's what the Unified Police Department and other agencies want. And that's why officers go through hundreds of hours of training before they ever wear a badge and dozens of mandatory hours each year to stay sharp. Sgt Cottam says "When it comes to actual, factual shooting - you want accuracy. You want bullets affecting people."
Part of that training happens right here in this simulator located at the Unified Police range up Parley's Canyon. Sgt. Cottam says it takes officers through scenarios that can get dangerous. "Drop the knife. Do it now. Do it now. Taser. Taser." And where decisions are made in a split second. "A lot of those things just come so quickly." The scenarios are designed to be as real as possible. Complete with charged emotions. Foul language. And threats against officers. Here is part of an exchange.
Sgt. Cottam: "Sir, you just need to relax and listen to what I am asking you to do."
Simulator suspect: "You guys have two BLEEPING seconds to leave."
Sgt. Cottam: "Drop it right now. Taser. Taser. Taser. Everybody relax. OK. Just relax."
Some scenarios include attempts on officer's lives - and a lethal response. "Car 75 send me another car.Drop the gun. Drop the gun. Bang. Bang."
Sgt. Cottam says scenarios like this should answer the questions as to why officers don't just aim at a suspects arms or legs. "You don't have time. It is instinctual shooting." He says even if they had a little more time - that type of shooting is strictly for Hollywood. "To have that type of precision with a hand gun - is almost impossible." Officers often are asked - why not just use a taser? Sgt. Cottam's short answer. "That doesn't always stop the problem." He goes on to say "We tell our officers to work in sequence - one has the taser out and one has a lethal weapon at least readily available." And he says - despite what some may believe - in his opinion officers do not want to have to shoot anyone. "The biggest and baddest cops - tough guys - really struggle with what they had to do. It's really heartbreaking to watch people go through that. Nobody wants that. I've never in my career met anybody in law enforcement or the military have a desire to take somebody's life. Its not something we want." To avoid that - Sgt. Cottam says he and other trainers provide officers with much more than simulator and range training. "You have a suspicion on someone being aggressive or not. Have them square your feet away. Cause if I am going to punch you I am going to go here first. Just naturally."
The 20-year police veteran says pulling a weapon may be necessary - but it is not what 'police work' is all about. "We really try to develop problem solvers. That's our job - not just put a Band Aid on things." And he says officers are taught to avoid having to use their weapons. "We are in the business of serving. That is what we do as cops and we make that very clear with all our new hires."
Obviously this is a very condensed look at training and what officers go through as they study and prepare to patrol and protect. But while doing this story we decided to see what it was like to be in an officer's shoes and what it feels like to have to respond and react. So, I jumped in with Sgt. Cottam in a school shooting scenario. To see the two minute scenario and how difficult it was to make split second decisions - WATCH the WEB EXTRA BELOW.
And to nominate an officer for a future story - go to: http://www.good4utah.com/badge
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