Special Report: When every second counts

Special Report: When every second counts
On top of using a simulator, officers also practice at the shooting range. (Source: WALB)
On top of using a simulator, officers also practice at the shooting range. (Source: WALB)
Training Officer Marty Smith (Source: WALB)
Training Officer Marty Smith (Source: WALB)
Valdosta Police Chief Brian Childress (Source: WALB)
Valdosta Police Chief Brian Childress (Source: WALB)
Officer Randall Hancock (Source: WALB)
Officer Randall Hancock (Source: WALB)

VALDOSTA, GA (WALB) - The increase in officer involved shootings across the nation have tensions between law enforcement and the community running high.

In Valdosta, there have been two officer involved shootings in just a few months.

WALB got a behind the scenes look at the use of force training officers in South Georgia must go through.

2.8 seconds: that's all the time an officer gets to respond to a life-threatening situation.

To see just how intense that could feel, WALB News 10's Caitlyn Chastain decided to put herself in an officer's boots and step into a shooting simulator.

"They've got to get to the point where it's instinctive," said Training Officer Marty Smith about recruits going through training, "We don't have a lot of time to put thought in what we're doing. We've got to respond and respond accordingly."

The simulator tests just how well potential officers respond in high stress situations.

It conveys real life scenarios officers get into.

We went through multiple scenarios, Caitlyn did not survive through most of them.

After one simulation, she could not even recall basic details.

"Did you see anybody else get shot?" asked Smith. "I don't remember," said Caitlyn.

Smith said that's a normal reaction in a high stress situation.

"The only reason we ever use force with somebody is to stop the conduct, stop the threat," said Smith.

A shooting simulator is one of just many parts of training potential officers must master before ever putting on a badge.

They also learn about Georgia Laws, practice at the shooting range, go through an obstacle course, train on other weapons, and train to be first responders.

Not all recruits make it through, but trainers said that's a good thing.

"We want to make sure the people we are putting out there to protect peoples property, and lives, and protect peoples constitutional rights, are people qualified to do the job," Smith stressed.

Current officers are also required to take training. It's something officers said could save their life and their badge.

"It's a puzzle," Valdosta Police Chief Brian Childress explained, "We train them on the law, we train them at the range, the fundamentals of shooting, the scenarios, and it's repetitive."

Officer Randall Hancock graduated from the academy nearly a decade ago.

He was the first of 2 officers involved in a shooting in Valdosta. Hancock was ambushed by a gunman while responding to a routine call in July.

Watch Caitlyn's Facebook Live videos from that day:


In a previous interview with WALB, Hancock recalled how quickly the shooting happened.

"In the corner of my vision I noticed a blur of him like spinning towards me and then he shot," Hancock remembered.

He said his training was crucial to saving his life.

"Training just kicked in. We've been trained from the time we, even before we go to the academy, our training upstairs at the police department trains us on use of force, response resistance. We get it all at the academy. Then we get it when we get back from the academy. Then we do it quarterly. It's a constant thing," said Hancock.

Hancock not only went through training, he was a field training officer (FTO).

FTO's step in when officers get out of the academy. Out of 150 officers at the Valdosta Police Department, only 8 are FTO's.

Just months after Hancock was ambushed, Valdosta had a second officer involved shooting.

Officer Alyssa Shirey shot at a suspect the GBI said was lunging at her with a knife.

Caitlyn went live on Facebook from the scene to bring updates:

Chief Childress said body camera footage shows Officer Shirey's use of force training is also evident in her case.

"An officer who did everything in her power to avoid shooting someone. That was part of the training," said Childress.

However, both officers had one of the most important pieces of training, time.

"The more you do it, the more relaxed you get at it and the more you learn how to talk to people," explained Childress.

Chief Childress said one thing about Hancock and Shirey's training is very clear - it worked.

It also takes at least a year for Valdosta officers to go through training before they ever sit in a patrol car.

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