Split Decision - Part One

ILLINOIS - The stories are everywhere.  Officers shooting  someone pointing a toy gun, holding a cell phone, or hitting a suspect with a car.  These days being an officers means making life and death decisions in the blink of an eye.  Some cops do violate the law.  But are most simply follow their training? Tonight we begin part one of a 3-part series called "Split Decision".  WAND's Dawn Sterling, Sean Streaty and I set out to understand how and why officers are trained to make those split second decisions with the help of Macon County deputies.

Training, training and more training.  The more an officer practices, the better he can react when the real thing happens.  Macon County Sheriff Tom Schneider is proud of this high tech training facility.  "Without a doubt I would say that facility is, if not one of the best in the nation, definitely one of the tops in the Midwest" he says.

But how does a small department like Macon County afford such luxury?  It's all made possible is part by this man: Howard Buffett.  His foundation, The Howard G. Buffett Foundation, focuses on agriculture, domestic hunger and public safety.  "Having the simulator and the sim house and training facility, and now we have a driving simulator that we got installed recently, I mean all these those things help officers do a better job" says Buffett.

He should know.  Buffett isn't they type of person to simply throw money toward a problem and hope it is solved.  He's a hands-on investor.  After a lot of training, Buffett now serves with the Macon County Sheriff's Dept. in two capacities: he is an Auxiliary Deputy, which is certified under the State of Illinois Training Board; and he also serves as a Civilian Undersheriff under Tom Schneider, working on special projects.

And it's here, at this high tech facility in Macon County, Lt. James Root helps develop some of the best "situational" training methods in the country.  "When we do scenarios we try to change it up. They're not all going to be 'shoot em up' scenarios.  Officers need to be able to make decisions according to the type of force that's actually authorized by law" says Root.

So, we spent about 18 hours each learning those "use of force" laws officers must know inside and out, patrolling streets, learning how to handle our weapons and learning what it's really like to be in those situations.  "You have to make decisions all the time" Root told us.  "You're making decisions on whether or not you need a back-up.  You're making decisions on whether you're going to exit the vehicle.  Every decision that you make you're making it in a short period of time."

And that explains why the public may see a media story one way, while a trained law enforcement officers sees it another way.

Sheriff Schneider says no cop is perfect.  He can certainly understand why, in some cases, the public has a negative reaction.  "Some of the negativity you see is warranted.  But a lot of it is not.  In some cases we see it and say 'you know what?  The public may not agree with this.  But we know from a tactical sense that officer went ahead and did the right thing' he adds.
Lt. Antonio Brown agrees.  He works in all forms of operations for the Sheriff's Dept. "It's always easy to come back later and play armchair quarterback" says Brown, who was raised in Decatur's inner city.  He says, back then, you knew and usually respected your neighborhood cops, who usually patrolled on foot.  He believes it's an officer's duty to know his job well.  But it's also the public's duty to know what to do, and what NOT to do, when interacting with an officers.  "We have to get it right.  We have to get it right.  And I think the only way we can do that? We have to work together" says Brown.

Howard Buffett says one of the main reasons his foundation chooses to fund public safety programs is because there have been so many budget cuts over the past decade.  Less money means a poorer product, and he doesn't want to see that happen.  He also wants the public to be better informed.  "The more training you have the better you're going to be, and the better job you'll do for the community" says Buffett.  And with an excellent training facility like the one we have in Macon County, a facility that is sometimes used to train officers from other departments, including the FBI, our officers here in Central Illinois are leading the way.

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