HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - Shoot or don't shoot; the decision between life and death comes down to seconds. While the use of force is making national headlines, Horry County Police are gearing up to train harder.
Tuesday, officers with the Horry County Police Department will begin training with the Firearms Training Simulator, or FATS. However, on Monday, the department decided to open its doors and peel off a layer of transparency by allowing the media in to go through the training first.
The equipment basically creates an indoor shooting range. A projector plays out different scenarios while a firearm fitted with electronic equipment shoots simulated ammunition.
Lieutenant Raul Denis believes the system costs around $60,000 with each gun costing nearly $20,000, and was paid for by a federal grant. He explained it could end up saving the department money because it will keep officers on the streets during training days, not creating overtime. It also will let the officers train without having to bring in additional resources.
Before pulling the trigger, officers have to pull from their training. This includes knowing the constitution and if the officer has the legal right to shoot a suspect. That decision has to be made within an instant.
Officers gave WMBF News reporter Stephanie Robusto a quick lesson on how to point and shoot the faux firearm and set her up for target practice. These were timed, with instructions to only shoot a certain number of rounds within a certain time.
For example, the instructor said “shoot two rounds within four seconds.”
Sounds simple enough. However, a few reporters shot more than two rounds. It wasn't for lack of listening, or inability to count. It was the adrenaline kicking in and hearing other shots going off throughout the room.
“That's part of this training. We don't want an officer to hear those shots and think he has to fire,” explained Sgt. Greg Hutchinson with the Horry County Police Department.
Wiping her palms, Stephanie asked him, “this is a controlled environment, we know a target is going to pop out. When you are out patrolling, you never know when someone may.”
“That is also where training comes in. The more experience that you have, the more exposure you have to different scenarios. You are able to react better, it becomes instinctive,” said Sgt. Hutchinson.
While each reporter in the room had a different level of ability with firearms, they agreed on one thing: this was stressful, even for a simulation.
Multiple times, reporters had to be asked to holster their weapons before a scenario started. “I feel better with it in my hand, we don't know what we are about to face,” said Stephanie.
Lieutenant Denis laughed and said it would never be acceptable for an officer to walk down the street with his weapon out in his hand.
With that, he set up a scenario for Stephanie to run through. On the screen, a scene played out featuring a motorcyclist running through a stop sign. For a first test, it seemed easy enough.
While asking the man for his license and registration, the actor portraying the motorcyclist on screen began to get irritated, yelling insults and profanities at the officers. Instead of pulling out his license, he pulled a gun out and immediately shot at the officers.
It was over before it started. Stephanie let out multiple shots, leading a lethal hit.
“So I killed him? But did he kill me first?” questioned Stephanie while she reviewed the tape.
This is the point in the training that instructors would review the actions of the officer and break down the scenario. The scenario reacts differently depending on how the officer interacts with it.
There are about 100 main scenarios, each has 5-6 different paths for each one. They range from a routine traffic stop to a diplomatic escort getting ambushed.
“We don't take use of force lightly. We would rather talk someone into cuffs than have to use it,” said Lt. Denis.
The Horry County Police Department hopes to have officers go through the training semi-annually in addition to other training.