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Training is key in correct use of deadly force, officers say

Posted May 8, 2015

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— The fatal shooting this week of a Raleigh man by Wake Forest police brings to 10 the number of people dead at the hands of Triangle and Cumberland County law enforcement since January 2013.

The officers who fired their weapons at David Johnson, 18, said he was armed with a handgun and refused to drop his weapon. They are on paid administrative leave while the State Bureau of Investigation looks into the case.

The incident raises questions about the use of deadly force. WRAL News spoke with officers Friday who said they never want to use deadly force, but each law enforcement agency in North Carolina operates under the same general statute that allows them to use it if they feel like they have no other choice.

According to state law, an officer can use deadly force "to defend himself or a third person from what he reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of deadly physical force."

Often, officers have only seconds to assess a situation.

“You're having to key in on what the suspect is doing with the weapon, you're trying to challenge, you're trying to determination are they pointing the weapon at me and what do I do to stop the threat,” Durham Police Deputy Chief Larry Smith said.

That's where required training comes into play. The state mandates all officers undergo annual training, including when to use deadly force.

Wellington Scott, a retired lieutenant colonel with the North Carolina State Highway Patrol, now works with the International Academy of Public Safety. He says how officers train is key.

“When you train, you want your officers to train under stress so they will fall back on that stress-related (training) and make good decisions,” he said.

Smith says shooting a suspect is always a last resort. But when an officer is forced to shoot, it's with the sole intention of stopping the threat.

“When our officers trained, they’re trained to shoot at the biggest body part, which is center mass,” he said. “We don't train to try and shoot at a leg or shoot at an arm. If we try to do that and miss, then we have a dead officer or a dead citizen.”

Tracking deaths

WRAL News tracked the deaths involving several area law enforcement agencies since January 2013. Figures include both officer-involved deaths and deaths of people in custody of law enforcement. Neither the Cary and Chapel Hill police departments nor the Orange County Sheriff's Office reported any in-custody or officer-involved deaths during that time period.

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  • Nick Ditcheos May 9, 2015
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    Thank you to our police men and women who risk their lives every day. all lives matter, but if you put yourself in bad situations sometimes the consequences can be you end up shot and dead. We keep addressing the wrong issue. Since the Baltimore riots there have been over 25 murders. Not until these communities take ownership of the real issues nothing is going to change except less police protection.