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Columbia County deputies taking extra steps for use-of-force training

Published: Jun. 25, 2020 at 6:09 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA COUNTY, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - While many are calling for change about police departments across the country, we’re taking a closer look at police training and use-of-force policies at our local sheriff’s offices.

Focusing on Columbia County, the sheriff’s office is shifting to see what changes it could make.

The Columbia County training complex has continued to expand over the years, most recently adding a driving course. Cadets and deputies from all over the state can come to the facility to gain their certifications. One of many training tools at the complex now is a use-of-force simulator. Cadets will come to the training while a scenario plays out on the screen. They’ll respond to it and hopefully de-escalate the situation, one that could turn deadly.

Staff Sgt. Dave Wheeler played out a scenario where a man reaches in his pocket and pulls out a staple gun. He says that is considered a justified shooting under "defense of self from death" in the use of force policy.

“That officer would be justified based on how quickly that went down,” Wheeler said.

There are more than 100 scenarios in the simulator that cadets and deputies from all over the state can practice with.

“I feel as though anyone that’s in this profession, through their entire career should pursue training opportunities that make them better,” Russell Canterbury, Columbia County Sheriff’s Office training lieutenant said. “Our world is always changing, laws are changing, the way you handle situations are changing, and you need to stay on top of it.”

And that means real-life simulations to practice de-escalation training.

“We’ll be able to eventually if they decide to put up buildings and structures, have like a little miniature town there,” Canterbury said. “Officers can respond to a bank robbery or domestic situation.”

Outside of training, the sheriff’s agency does not use body cameras, but deputies say they’re looking into changing that.

The sheriff’s agency is also one of the few in the state with its own use-of-force investigation team, meaning after an officer-involved shooting -- rather than the Georgia Bureau of Investigation -- the agency’s team investigates it and reports their findings to the district attorney.

The team also investigates surrounding counties, saying they have just as much training as the GBI and it takes less time. They hope all these resources can lead to better functionality within the department.

Columbia County deputies have had no officer-involved shootings this year, only five overall in the last ten years.

Copyright 2020 WRDW/WAGT. All rights reserved.

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