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Experts say use of force by police is an important conversation society needs to have

Posted at 5:29 PM, Oct 21, 2021

SALT LAKE CITY — Use of force by police is often a split-second decision, sometimes accompanied by 30 seconds of video, and then days or weeks of making headline

Often these cases receive a lot of media attention but there isn’t as much understanding behind how these decisions are made.

FOX 13 was invited to a special course to learn more about when officers make that critical decision.

Agents with The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have been touring the country, educating media professionals about use of force policy police abide by.

Deputy Chief Paul Massock with the ATF says it’s an important conversation in society. He wants people to understand the legal rules officers must follow and the physiological factors that make this job incredibly difficult.

These ATF agents want the general public to be able to put these incidents into context, and they want us to help.

We asked, why there is a misunderstanding?

“I think it’s the Hollywood effect on police shootings, I think there are a lot of myths that come out of the Hollywood effect,” said Brad Engelbert, Special ATF Agent.

Like that a single shot will drop someone to the ground or that you can shoot at a limb or hand.”

“As we use deadly force especially the whole point is to stop the threat,” said Brad Engelbert, Special ATF Agent.

In less than a second, officers have to decide whether to act or not. They base all decisions on the use of force policy outlined by the DOJ.

“But there is one appropriate legal question and that is based on all the facts and circumstances known to the officer the time they used force, was that force reasonable? There’s a number one predictor regarding if an officer will use force and if they do, how much, and that is the behavior of the suspect,” said Paul Massock, Deputy Chief, Special Ops Div., ATF.

The policy states, “Law enforcement officers of the Department of Justice may use deadly force only when necessary, that is, when the officer has a reasonable belief that the subject of such force poses an imminent danger of death or serious physical injury to the officer or to another person.”

ATF agents told us they want people to walk away knowing how rapidly these events evolve, how quickly they make decisions, and the underpinnings of the legal framework to make these decisions.

They hope by having these discussions, citizens will have more confidence in law enforcement officers.

Salt Lake City was the 16th stop on their tour across the 50 largest cities in America.