Shoot or don't shoot: Training with BPD

Posted at 2:58 PM, Feb 09, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-09 21:51:22-05

They've been called the deadliest police force in the country by The Guardian, Vanity Fair and the Washington Post, but the Bakersfield Police Department says they've been unfairly portrayed.

"We are not the deadliest police force in the world. We handle a threat, we protect the public the way we see fit, the way the public wants us to protect," said Sergeant Charles Sherman, a 15-year member of the BPD.  He began his career as a Kern County Sheriffs detentions deputy and then became a reserve officer for the Bakersfield Police Department. Sherman now trains hundreds of officers, preparing them for use of force scenarios.

23ABC got a behind the scenes look at the use of force training every Bakersfield Police Officer goes through before they hit the streets.

Every officer is placed in front of an interactive projector screen, where they are faced with dozens of scenarios based off real life situations. They're equipped with their standard belt, but all of the weapons have been outfitted with laser sensors. 

Officers talk to suspects and choose weapons, if the situation dictates the use of force. A training officer monitors the scenario in real time and manipulates the response of the suspect based on the officer's commands. 

BPD Range Master, Senior Officer Travis Harless, controlled our scenarios, starting them off fairly simple and then escalating to deadly use of force situations. 

WATCH A LIVE REPORT AT 6 p.m. (2/9/2016)

"You have a toolbox, you have to pick what is the appropriate tool," said Sgt. Sherman, about selecting which force option to use. 

"We have controlling force, injuring force and deadly force," said Ofc. Harless, giving a quick rundown of options each officer has. The most important tool in the toolbox: your voice.

During one of our scenarios, a disgruntled man storms into an office, demanding to see the manager. He's irate and throws a punch at the manager, then turns to the screen (the officer) and makes threats. At this point, Officer Harless cuts in, "I would say to him, 'Stop, turn around. Put your hands on top of your head.' Then you see what he does. If he responds to that and does what you tell him to do, you might not have to use force." 

We end up using a tazer to stop the man, BPD training officials saying it was an appropriate choice, given the situation. Pepper spray not an appropriate choice because of the confined nature of the office, the baton inappropriate because of the furniture and obstacles in the way and the gun not an option because the man isn't holding anything that can be used as a weapon.

"It's easy to Monday morning quarterback an officer for the decisions they make. You're having to make a life or death decision, a consequential decision in a split second that lawyers, judges and the public and the media are going to have months to critique you about," said Officer Harless, about post-OIS perceptions of an officer. 

The Bakersfield Police Department has been involved in 34 officer-involved shootings between 2010 and September of 2015.

"I believe in our department here and our range masters and our defense tactics. We give as much training as possible. Every officer doesn't get up, get dressed, put on the uniform, put on the badge and go to work every day saying 'I'm going to shoot someone.' We don't do that," said Sgt. Sherman. BPD says they're only reacting with appropriate force options, never making a choice in excess.

"When an officer pulls his gun out and actually uses it, it's the end of the line where everything comes together and misses don't win gunfights," said Range Master, Senior Officer James Ramos.

He reiterated that BPD wants each officer to be accurate with a firearm, so that when they do shoot, they're hitting their target. "It does no good for an officer to fire rounds down range and not strike the threat. It puts the public in danger, it puts the officer in danger."

The Bakersfield police department was involved in six fatal officer-involved shootings in 2015, but they stand by their decisions, saying it's a hazard of protecting the public.