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A look inside ATF training on use of force, virtually simulating real-life police situations

Posted at 5:14 PM, Jun 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-15 18:12:52-04

(WXYZ) — The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives is showing what police and federal agents encounter in dangerous and stressful situations, in times when decisions have to be made in a split second.

Federal agents showed 7 Action News reporter Simon Shaykhet how quickly a scenario can escalate. Posing as an officer armed with a gun, Shaykhet was facing a screaming driver who would not stay in the car and then suddenly grabs for something. He then points the item at Shaykhet, who pulls out his gun but stopped after seeing that the driver was only holding a cell phone.

“It happened to be a cell phone. Do you think had you used force at that time, it could be considered reasonable?” asked an instructor following the demonstration.

As part of a special training seminar, 7 Action News got to experience the adrenaline and tension that comes with these encounters.

In another scenario, a man jumps out of an SUV, comes up behind a woman at the ATM and puts a knife to her throat. This time, Shaykhet fires his gun twice during the simulation, striking the suspect who falls to the ground.

“Our main goal is to reduce violent crime,” said Keith Krolczyk, Acting Special Agent in Charge.

Krolczyk says his agency is committed to taking guns off the streets and stopping violent crime. He adds that law enforcement is sworn to uphold the constitution and can only use deadly force when there's an imminent threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or another person. Instructor Jim Balthazar adds that real-life scenarios are unpredictable.

“Dealing with a person who is compliant and cooperative, to resistant and fighting and losing a deadly threat to officers, our goal is to help convey through the media some realities about police use of force,” Balthazar said.

Federal guidelines state all officers' use of force has to be judged based on its reasonableness, and that no single solution is the perfect answer. Officers are often considering the severity of the crime, immediate threat, availability of weapons and past history when choosing how to respond. Instructors point out the Supreme Court also says a suspect does not need to be armed with a weapon to justify lethal force.

“It’s hard to define what constitutes imminent threat," said Paul Massock, Dep. Chief of special operations. "Gun, knife, unarmed but physically dominating another person."

And this training, above all, intends to raise awareness about laws and policies. It's done all over the county with a mission to help educate communities.

“Here in Detroit, it’s our fifth time doing this training and we are hoping to bridge communication between the media and public,” Krolczyk said.