The Leavenworth incident near Kansas City brings the state total of officer-involved shootings to eleven. That number is more than Kansas had for all of 2013. Eyewitness News sat down with Retired Sedgwick County Sheriff Robert Hinshaw to learn more about what kind of training officers go through to deal with the threatening situations and quick decisions. Hinshaw previously worked as a Lieutenant Director of Training, a Sergeant Assistant to Training and an instructor in use of force and defense tactics training for several years.
Hinshaw said Wichita Police Officers and Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Deputies train together under laws set by the state. The Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center (KLETC) created a training statute all areas in the state have to follow. The state mandated training session is 18 weeks, but Hinshaw said the training in Sedgwick County is more than 20 weeks long. He said every year, the law requires officers to take refresher training to keep up on their skills.
“They enhance the training given, applying specific policies of the police department and sheriff's office to the required training by KLETC,” Hinshaw said. “I think it's a very good training model and you really don't change what's working.”
Hinshaw said officers are typically trained to stop the threat.
“A law enforcement officer is authorized to use the reasonable amount of force necessary to protect themselves, to achieve an objective, to stop the threat,” Hinshaw said. “That's what it all boils down to.”
He said it’s a common misconception among people that officers are supposed to use the minimum amount of force possible to handle a situation. He said that’s not realistic or reasonable, which he said is the key word.
Hinshaw explained a situation where a suspect was coming at an officer with a knife and said, “One could argue that the minimum amount of force that person could use would be to disarm the individual. But the question you have to ask yourself is is it reasonable when someone is running at you with a knife to try to disarm them? Because they're trying to kill you, so is that a reasonable reaction? No.”
He said the training involves several aspects ranging from lecture to simulated situations. He said trainers consistently quiz officer recruits throughout the training process asking them what kinds of situations certain defenses would work best in. He said a lot of the quizzing is during shooting practice and other hands-on training.
“I do know, unless it’s changed significantly, there is approximately 40 to 50 hours of defensive tactics and armed combat, another 40 hours of lethal force training,” Hinshaw said. “There are several other classes that could fall into use of force training - officer survival, ethics, legal considerations, and civil liability.”
Hinshaw said toward the end of training, officer recruits work with trainers in simulated situations. He said the trainers imitate situations officers may have to handle. He said once officers finish the simulations, they go into a classroom and write up a report, like they would have to in a real situation. Hinshaw said sometimes, trainers record video of the simulations and play the video back comparing it to the reports officer recruits write.
“Then they're going to be graded,” Hinshaw said. “Did they pull their firearm? Did they not pull their firearm? Should they have pulled their firearm?”
Hinshaw said when faced with a threatening situation, officers have very little time to consider quite a few things.
“How many officers are present? What type of threat is perceived? The subject's willingness to resist. What's the relative size between the officers and the individual? Does the individual have a weapon?” Hinshaw asked mimicking some of the questions officers have to think about in dangerous situations. “It's deciding at that moment in time how much force can you use to maintain control.”
The training, according to Hinshaw, teaches officer recruits how to handle situations when they may have not made the right decision initially.
“Sometimes you can make a mistake and go this isn't working,” Hinshaw said. “So if you have made a decision as to what a reasonable level of force is and that doesn't work, then you're allowed to increase the amount of force that you're using.”
Hinshaw said the trainers teach the officer recruits to pay close attention to situations and see if they meet criteria for deadly force.
“When you're talking about deadly force, there are basically three things that need to be present - ability, opportunity and jeopardy,” Hinshaw said.
When asked why he thinks there have been more officer-involved shootings in Kansas in 2014, Hinshaw said he thinks it’s because society has become crueler. He said people let their emotions dictate their actions and it’s a societal issue that brings about more dangerous situations.
When presented with several officer involved shootings in the media, Hinshaw said people often respond without understanding all of the facts and the situation entirely.
“Unless you've actually been there, you really don't know the level of stress,” he said. “There's two things I think everyone needs to keep in mind. Number one, someone's dead and that someone had a family and loved ones and that's going to hurt a lot of people. And number two, at least all the officers and deputies I’ve known and the training they've gone through, they're still in the position of they've taken a human life and that's not something that is easily done.”
Hinshaw said while law enforcement trains for these situations, it’s not something that any of the officers want to encounter.
“I’ve buried five deputies that I worked with and I have investigated officer-involved shootings when I was a detective,”Hinshaw said. “It's not something that anyone ever wants to go through.”
Hinshaw said after these situations occur, anyone involved goes through a stress debriefing. He said it applies to officers who worked the scene, emergency dispatchers, and any others who may have been affected. Protocol requires officers involved to go through an investigation and be put on paid leave until the investigation finishes.