It is legal, with a Firearms Owner Identification (FOID) card, to own guns in Forest Park. Like all municipalities, Forest Park regulates firearms within its own boundaries. But after public shootings in Newtown Conn. and the spiking number of violent gun-deaths in Chicago, the nation seems to be looking at gun ownership in a new light.
In Maywood last week, Mayor Henderson Yarbrough joined Rep. Danny Davis to announce stricter regulations on owning assault-type weapons and ammunition in Maywood.
The Forest Park Police Department does not have a specific policy regarding gun control for the citizens of Forest Park, but it does have high standards for training officers how to use firearms and certifying them to carry weapons, said Officer Tom Hall, head range instructor for Forest Park Police.
The ongoing process involves two parts: how to shoot and when.
Hall, who has been with the FPPD for 18 years, said that when new recruits finish their studies at a police academy, they are required to take a forty hour course “just on firearms including everything from the use of force model to weapons maintenance to shooting to the law.”
He added that the most important part of the training is what he called “the use of force model,” which involves when is it appropriate to fire a weapon rather than how to shoot. The training therefore involves developing both the skill of the recruits and their judgment.
Hall said that to be certified, a recruit has to shoot thirty rounds at a target about as big as a sheet of legal sized paper at distances varying from five to 15 yards away and hit that target 70 percent of the time. To be recertified on an annual basis, officers must pass the same test, but in his opinion that’s not enough. He put it this way: “My goal is to give my guys the tools they need. If, God forbid, something happens, I want my guys to win.”
“In addition to meeting the minimum requirement,” he said, “the rest of the year we do what I call combat or tactical training where we teach how to reload your weapon, shooting on the move, shooting at a moving target, shooting in low light, shooting with a flashlight, shooting while getting out of a car … over and over and over.”
“The chances are,” said Deputy Chief of Police Tom Aftanas, “that if, God forbid, an officer gets in a situation, they’re not going to be standing still. They may be shooting at a moving target, or they may be moving themselves. It’s very difficult to shoot accurately while moving because your gun is moving also. When we do training at the range it shows the officers how difficult it is to shoot while they’re moving, even at a close distance.”
Aftanas acknowledged that there are some private citizens who are even more skilled at shooting a firearm than are many officers, because they frequent shooting ranges. He’s not worried about that kind of gun owner, i.e. one who is law abiding and uses a weapon responsibly.
In addition to training his officers how to shoot, perhaps the more difficult piece is preparing them to know when to shoot. Here’s what the law says: In Tennessee v. Garner (1985) the Supreme Court of the United States held that under the Fourth Amendment, when a law enforcement officer is pursuing a fleeing suspect, he or she may use deadly force only to prevent escape if the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.
In addition, Article Seven of the Illinois Criminal Code states, “A person is justified in the use of force against another when and to the extent that he reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself or another against such other’s imminent use of unlawful force. However, he is justified in the use of force which is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm only if he reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or another, or the commission of a forcible felony.”
Hall said that the problem is in the term reasonably. When a criminal is pointing a gun at you and shooting, he said, it’s easy to figure out that it’s time to shoot back, but most situations are not as cut and dried as that. The law is easy to understand intellectually but when people are running around, it might be hard to distinguish the bad guys from innocent bystanders, especially when people are shouting and screaming. And you only have a second or two to decide whether or not to pull the trigger.
That’s why, Hall explained, he and his fellow instructors try to make training as realistic as possible. “If you train like you will be fighting,” he said, “then you’ll fight like you train.” That is, when decision time comes and the officers are under stress, their training will come back to them. They will make the right decisions and perform better than the bad guys.”
That’s also why Hall tries to make training as stressful as possible. The officers on the range are sometimes timed. Trainers have even sometimes run alongside trainees, yelling and screaming at them through a bullhorn, to simulate the confusion of a real incident. When officers are role playing criminals, they even use what’s called simunition, which is sort of like training with a pellet gun. “If you get hit by simunition,” Hall said with a wry laugh, “it hurts.”
The FPPD also uses FATS—fire arms training simulator—which is like a sophisticated video game in which ever changing scenarios appear on the screen and the person in training must make split second decisions whether to fire a laser gun at one of the figures on the screen.
Aftanas laughed as he recalled a former Review editor trying out the FATS machine. “When she finished after several minutes,” he said, “she was sweating.”
Aftanas added that if it’s stressful to react well in a simulation, it’s even more difficult when someone is pointing a gun at you, and that’s why their training is what allows police officers to make better decisions and perform better under stress. “I remember interviewing people who were victims of violent crimes,” he said, “and they couldn’t even give a description of a suspect. Because they were focused on the gun, they don’t even look at the person’s face.”
“We always advise citizens,” he added, “that if a gun is pointed at you, do exactly what the person says. You don’t want to take a chance.”
Both Hall and Aftanas freely admitted that they had not figured out what the right responses are to the epidemic of gun violence plaguing our society. What they insist on, however, is that their officers be well trained regarding their skill at shooting firearms and their judgment about when to use them.