TEMPE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - Deadly incidents involving police officers and suspects have taken center stage in recent years, leading to protests and questions about the way policing is done.

Now, law enforcement wants to present their side. On Wednesday, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms walked our crews through their job and explained why some incidents end with deadly force.

"They're literally putting their lives on the line for the benefit of their community," said Paul Massock, ATF Special Operations Division Deputy Chief. "Officers are gonna always be focused on their safety and the safety of others when they make these decisions and reactions in regards to use of force."

It's a decision that sometimes needs to be made in the blink of an eye.

ATF agents ran journalists through what's known as a "MILO" simulator. It creates a realistic situation that an officer might find themselves in out in the field, and tests their decision-making skills when it comes to use of force.

Use of force training

Using a fake handgun and a screen, participants were walked through different scenarios.

Using a fake handgun and a screen, participants were walked through scenarios that ranged from a suspect with a knife that eventually lunged forward at the participant, to a traffic stop where a man pulls out a handgun.

"This is where you see the first amendment, the second amendment, and the fourth amendment all converging," said Eric Fox, ATF Phoenix Field Office Assistant Special Agent in Charge.

Courts have given law enforcement the right to use force. But Department of Justice Policy on when that force can be used can be ambiguous in many of the terms it uses. Individual departments also have their own policies, and whether or not it's reasonable for an officer to use deadly force often depends on existing case law, which is always evolving.

"It's extremely important that officers go through this training. from the onset of the academy to when they retire, the evolution of law, the evolution of practice," Fox said.

There have been changes in the way use of force training is done. "I think there's been a large emphasis placed on de-escalation. A large emphasis placed on less lethal options available to officers," Massock said.

Though at Wednesday's training agents didn't want to go into why, on a national level, African Americans and Latinos are more likely to be shot to death by police.

"I think there's a lot that goes into that," Massock said. "I would tell you that the number one issue that goes into decision-making on the part of an officer is the behavior of the individual that they're dealing with. Period."

Agents emphasized that every situation is different: a different officer dealing with a different suspect.

"Officers are only one half of the equation," Massock said. "There's also the individual that they're dealing with."

But the main similarity in all deadly use of force incidents is that the choices made on either side can change lives forever.


Copyright 2021 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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No matter the subject, reporter Max Gorden seeks to tell compelling, impactful stories that spark debate and inspire thought. Read more about Max.

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