Deputy’s judgment defended in shooting
Gerber, a training lieutenant and assistant SWAT commander at the Walworth County Sheriff's Office, is the man in charge of teaching deputies how to decide whether to shoot a suspect in a high-stress scenario.
"You're talking about hundreds of training hours and policies going into that split-second decision to pull the trigger," he said.
The lieutenant's comments come in the heels of a Friday incident when Deputy Wayne Blanchard shot Mark S. Beaver, 48, of La Grange Township.
Deputies went to the home and found a woman and Beaver, who held a gun to his own head in front of deputies and also pointed it toward the woman, police said.
Deputies asked Beaver to drop the gun, but he pointed his gun toward a deputy, took cover behind a tree and fired one shot toward the deputy. Blanchard returned fire, hitting Beaver twice, police said.
"We don't take that lightly, it's something we take very seriously here," Gerber said about the use of deadly force.
Beaver was in critical condition Monday at Froedert Memorial Lutheran Hospital in Milwaukee.
Blanchard remains on administrative duty while the shooting is reviewed.
The lieutenant said hours of training each year for Walworth County deputies lead to responsible decisions, and he is confident of his trainee's ability to make the right call.
Undersheriff Kurt Picknell said the sheriff's office offers monthly firearms training for deputies, who are required to attend the course once every six months.
Some deputies attend the course more often than that, Picknell said.
Blanchard, along with being a member of the SWAT team, is one of the state-certified instructors in firearms—including use of deadly force.
"He has a very high level of competency, and he is well-trained," the undersheriff said.
Gerber said before using deadly force a law enforcement officer must recognize that a suspect has three things: a weapon, an intent to harm and a way to inflict harm.
If a suspect has all three and a deputy or someone else is in imminent danger, an officer needs to make a decision to protect a life, Gerber said.
Deputies also are taught other approaches, which Gerber calls the resolution model. The model includes:
-- Presence: Often the presence of an officer is enough to calm a situation and avoid further problems.
-- Dialogue: Gerber said talking still is the sheriff's office's best weapon, and most situations are solved by making verbal contact with suspects.
-- Control alternatives: When the previous two tactics fail, taking control of the suspect by using more forceful tactics such as pepper spray, a Taser or handcuffs is next.
-- Protective alternatives: These techniques are used to protect the potential victim who needs to be kept safe.
-- Deadly force: Used as a last resort, policies state deadly force can only be used when there is imminent danger to someone.
The model used to be called a continuum, but Gerber said he stopped calling it that because sometimes there is a need to skip a few steps.
"If you're on a corner and the guy has a gun pointed at you, that's not a time to be talking," he said.
Training on the use of deadly force is necessary because the initial approaches—such as dialogue and control alternatives—are the ones most used by Walworth County deputies.
"If you look at our records, upward of 99 percent of the cases with the public are resolved by just talking to them," Gerber said. "It's the small 1 percent, when deadly force is used, that we need to train on because that's something we don't do as often."
Last updated: 1:01 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012