Deadly Force Training

Every deputy in the Harris County Sheriff's Department goes through training on how and when to use deadly force. The training exposes officers to various situations where they have to make judgement calls on whether to shoot a suspect. Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson takes us on a look inside the special training for "use of force" situations.

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The Harris County Firearms Training Facility doesn't look like much. A couple of firing ranges and a small building pretty much sums up the landscape. But what goes on here is some of the most sophisticated use of force training in the state. Deputy Mike Faas is one of the trainers. He takes cadets through what's known as FATS, or the Firearms Training System.

"We've got to convince ourselves that we didn't come here to shoot guns. We're not going to shoot guns today. The only thing we're going to do is take that weapon and we're going to align those sights and focus on that front sight and then we're going to start putting slow pressure on that trigger but we're not going to shoot that gun, we're just going to keep increasing that pressure more -- until that gun decides when it wants to go off."

Pretty basic so far. Trainees are still inside a building at this point, watching an instructor use a training weapon. But then it gets a bit more difficult. Faas takes the trainees into the simulation room. A training gun is connected to a computer program that enables the cadet to go through any number of use of force situations. This scenario involves two officers responding to an attacker holding a knife.

"We're coming real close to simulating real life here and this is a much better preparation for the streets than -- it is very anxiety-provoking and sometimes they forget it's a simulation and come to believe it's real life."

The simulator is so close to real life, that it responds to the commands and actions of the officer in training. Deputy Ken Welch.

"If I'm a good shot, I won't get shot. If I'm not such a good shot, that's going to react accordingly. Now we have the capability of adjusting on the computer -- you know well let's see if I get two real good kill shots I'm going to be okay. But if I just shoot him one time and it's in the arm, he's going to continue to react."

Officers go through these, and live action scenarios over and over to prepare them for the time when they may have to use their weapon in a real situation. The videos, as well as live simulations in buildings, rooms and firing ranges, are among the most advanced in Texas. The county facility is used as a model for other municipalities, including the Houston Police Department, which is considering upgrades to their equipment based on seeing this facility. Faas says this training is crucial for law enforcement officers.

"The society in which we live seems to be increasing in more violence so the level of training to meet that violence is going to have to be increased."

The county spent $4 million on this facility. Some of that funding came from seized money, so the facility is in part paid for by the criminals of Harry County. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

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