COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) – Shoot or don't shoot: it can be a life-or-death decision that police officers may have to make in a split second, ending with potentially that officer - or a suspect - being shot.
In the 3rd and final part of our special report "In the line of fire," we take you inside the at-times action-packed training, that lasts 6 months overall, to become a Columbus police officer.
"Our objective is not to go out there and shoot, use deadly force on someone," Columbus Police Training Director Lt. Tim Wynn said.
Knowing nothing about this job is routine, these new Columbus police officers are learning how to put a deadly force checklist into action.
The training director for the Columbus Police Department, Lt. Tim Wynn, says their mission is to keep the public safe and this is what they instruct officers: "If your life or another party's life is in danger, you're going to have to deploy whatever force is necessary there."
We caught up with new Columbus police officer Zach Howard and his comrades while they finished their training. They did active shooter role playing, designed to not only gets the new cops physically prepared for high-stress, potentially deadly situations but also mentally focused.
"They always tell us, go ahead and start visualizing if you were to roll up, you're driving home and see something go on, start thinking what you would do if an attack would happen, where's your cover, what would you do, how would you move?" Howard said.
Still, recent police shootings in the headlines are in the back of their minds.
"I'm scared at times, when we train on the range, it's often for the worst-case scenarios and there are times...like holy crap, this is awful," Howard told us. "We're learning multiple tactics, how to move, how to communicate properly."
"And complacency has no place in our job," Lt. Wynn said.
They warn police officers to be vigilant, testing them in different, realistic scenarios on FATS or the Firearms Training Simulator.
Howard said, "That machine that tests our judgmental use of force - with our firearm, taser or pepper spray."
Veteran officers say it's a different world for law enforcement, judged more now for use of force, but instructors tell those new in uniform...to not let politics get in the way of protecting and serving.
Lt. Wynn added, "You do the job and to the best of your ability and, if you're within our guidelines, you're good to go."
Those guidelines start, before the state-mandated 11-week police academy, with almost a month of learning how to a shoot multiple weapons at a Columbus range. Some new officers have never shot a pistol before.
"It's actually quite amazing how far they come along in a 3 week period and they're very good shooters when they go to the academy," Lt. Wynn said. "The simulation training is as realistic as we can get, without firing an actual firearm. It leaves a color-coated mark on the vest you're wearing."
Add to work with a field training officer plus in-house instructions on policy and laws, Howard and his comrades just completed it all, hitting the streets a week ago. But new officers aren't the only ones learning.
"Veteran officers get retrained every year in the use of force. It goes from the gammet of officer presence all the way up to deadly force," Lt. Wynn said.
He also told News Leader 9 all law enforcement know that danger is part of the job and they may encounter situations they cannot train to defend against.
"You can have your head on a swivel, but we all understand, if someone's laying out in the grass with a rifle, you're in a lot of trouble there," Lt. Wynn said.