Civilians learn about police use of force

By Jason A. Smith
Times Correspondent

It’s easy to sit back in a comfortable chair while watching the news and comment on situations involving police that one may think are handled improperly, especially where the use of deadly force is concerned.

Henry County Police Chief Keith Nichols addresses local leaders and elected officials at a Familiarization of Police Use of Force luncheon. Special photo

It’s something else entirely to be forced to deal with such situations personally and make life-or-death decisions in a heartbeat.

With that in mind, Henry County Police Chief Keith Nichols recently invited a number of local leaders to a luncheon and demonstration that he titled “Familiarization of Police Use of Force” and incorporated some of the county’s high-tech equipment to make it as real as possible for civilians to get a glimpse into what officers can face on a daily basis.

The Feb. 6 event was attended by several elected officials on the local and state levels who represent various sections of Henry County. They had the opportunity to train on the department’s VirTra Simulator, which consists of a large 3D video screen connected to a Glock air compression pistol, and go through various scenarios to see how they would react.

This type of activity first came about a few years ago, when Henry County Solicitor General Trea Pipkin asked Nichols to host justices of the Georgia Supreme Court for a session, thinking that it would help them as they made decisions on the bench. They were very complimentary of the program and said it was a positive experience, Nichols said,

With events involving law enforcement officers in Ferguson, Mo., and other places over the past year (and the reactions of the media and the public to them), Nichols felt it was a good idea to reach out to some state legislators and let them “look through the eyes of an officer,” so to speak.

“The last thing an officer wants to do – at least, every officer I’ve ever met – is to take someone’s life,” said Nichols. “It’s a very heavy burden. Hopefully this will give people a better perspective.”

The simulator presents several different scenarios. For instance, the participant could be an officer responding to a domestic dispute and have to decide in a split-second whether a person is reaching for a gun or something else, like a cell phone. The participant has a two-fold responsibility: to decide whether to shoot in the first place, and then to make a shot without harming an innocent bystander.

“We make it as realistic as we can,” said Nichols. “With the simulator, if the wrong decision is made, the result isn’t fatal. This gives people a better idea of what can really happen. When it’s your own neck on the line, you are less likely to be a Monday morning quarterback about situations involving other people.”

The simulator was acquired by the HCPD through a grant at a cost of around $90,000.

“I want to thank our elected officials for taking the time out of their busy schedules to come see how the officers of the Henry County Police Department train,” said Nichols. “I think it is vital for them to have an understanding of what our officers face each and every day that they are on the streets of Henry County.”

Those in attendance included Henry County Solicitor General Trea Pipkin; Rev. Ralph Easterwood, a HCPD chaplain; Chuck Spahos, executive director of the Prosecuting Attorneys Council of Georgia; State Senator Rick Jeffares; State Representative Brian Strickland; Locust Grove City Councilperson Keith Boone; and McDonough City Councilperson Craig Elrod.