The trauma of a cop-on-citizen shooting isn't limited to a victim's family-the cop feels it, too. It's an often-overlooked part of the story because the officer is typically whisked away from the public eye.
POA president Bill Nemec, who shot a guy after the subject shot and wounded his partner, tried to explain what it's like. "It is a very, very horrific experience," he said. "You can't believe that you had to involve yourself in such an activity, even though you're carrying a gun, even through you're trained, even though you're out there on the street-that somebody would force you to make that choice."
Even more traumatic is when a person believed to be wielding a gun was instead reaching for something else.
On a warm, sunny Wednesday afternoon, 10 police officers from throughout the San Diego region run through firearms training at the San Diego Police Department's shooting range in Chollas View. In front of them is a line of targets, each bearing a life-size photo of an unsavory character. The targets are all connected to a computer that controls when they turn and for how long.
Each target-man holds something in his hand-four hold guns, one holds a rather large cell phone and another, dressed in a wife-beater and jeans, holds a beer can at gut level. Targets bearing photos of guys using either a woman or a child as a human shield are in a shed a few yards away.
The moving-target scheme is supposed to sharpen officers' perception skills and reaction time. In other words, when the target holding the cell phone turns toward and away from an officer in under a second, he's supposed recognize that it's indeed a cell phone in the man's hand and not a weapon.
On this day, beer-can and cell-phone come out of the training run unscathed. Since the department purchased the moving-target set-up, six months ago, rangemaster Ralph Garcia said he's seen an improvement in quick decision-making. "That's where we want to be," he said.
Garcia is on the SDPD's shooting review board, a group tasked with evaluating officer-involved shootings, looking at whether changes in tactics, training or equipment could have prevented a shooting from happening. In the field, he said, instinct takes over-"bad habits on the range translates to bad habits in the field."
The moving-target range was on the department's wish list, said Police Chief William Lansdowne. It was paid for largely by a private donation and represents a shift in training. "Today we teach not only how to shoot but when to shoot," he said.
Or, as Garcia put it, "It's not just about pulling the gun out and firing a bullet."