CRIME, POLICE + COURTS

Under the gun: how the FBI trains for split-second decisions

Jul 12, 2018, 10:11 AM

SALT LAKE CITY — Law enforcement officers, whether federal, state or local, never know when they’ll have to put their training to the test. So at the FBI, agents go through firearms training and qualification at least four times a year, including role-playing scenarios of the worst possible cases. Once a year, that training also includes a visit to a special room that puts their knowledge to the test.

Special Agent Jim Olson is the Principal Firearms Instructor for the FBI in Salt Lake City. Recently, he put FBI Confidential hosts Becky Bruce and Sheryl Worsley through the bureau’s Firearms Training Simulator, or FATS – a room-sized system aimed at helping agents work through split-second, life-or-death decision making in the safety of a controlled environment.

“The last thing we want to do is [use deadly force],” Olson says. “It’s really, truly a last resort. I know agents who have had to shoot people, and it’s a very, very difficult thing to have to go through.”

Standing in front of a wall-sized screen, each agent is presented with a scenario that changes based on the agent’s actions and reactions, all designed to test the agent’s knowledge of the FBI and Department of Justice’s Use of Force policy, as well as their own training and abilities.

“They’ll go through 12 to 15 scenarios of different cases that have played out, different little scenarios that have played out,” Olson says, explaining that his role is to teach firearms as the chief division counsel teaches the legal end of the policy.

“What happens with this system, what happens here is that a video will play out and we can interact with that. So we have guns, and we’re looking for a couple of things. We’re looking for, is the agent self-aware? And does the agent have good situational awareness?” Olson says. “Are their spidey senses tingling? Do they understand what’s going on and how they interact with it? Do they communicate? Do they come up and not say anything?”

Agent Olson explains to Sheryl Worsley why her scenario would have been a tough judgment call, even for a seasoned agent.

During the demonstration, Bruce and Worsley both encountered situations where using deadly force would have been legally justified, but pulling the trigger on the inert weapon was a tough judgment call to make. For example, in the scenario presented to Worsley, a suspect is firing shots at the agent, but there is also a child present. In Bruce’s scenario, a suspect who had moments before fired shots at the agent turns and flees, leaving the agent looking at his back, before turning around and opening fire again. Olson says those variables are all part of real-life decision making.

“There is a lot going on other than the decision to or not to use deadly force,” he says. “All of that training kind of comes together in these scenarios.”

One question Olson says he is asked a lot is why agents aren’t trained to fire in places unlikely to kill a suspect.

“People say, ‘why don’t you shoot someone in the knee?’ Well, if you have a gun and I shoot you in the knee and you fall to the ground, it hurts you. You’ve now fallen to the ground, so you’re probably immobile. But you can still shoot me,” he says.

But the training also covers when not to shoot and how to avoid tragedy. Olson relates a very personal story where this training kicked in for him.

“As a firearms instructor, occasionally I have firearms in my car overnight because I have early morning training the next morning. That was the case a few years ago, and at home, it was about three o’clock in the morning and I get awakened by my wife who’s elbowing me, saying ’The alarm’s going off in your work truck.’ And so I grabbed my rifle, came out downstairs and I had three options where I could go, and I decided to go around the back way.

“As I was heading to the back door, from the garage, I hear my garage door opening, and so I immediately took a knee behind the counter and pointed my gun toward the threat. The first thing I saw was a baseball bat. The second thing I saw was my son.

“I took the weapon offline, but my finger was not on the trigger and the weapon was on ’safe.’ Right? So based on my training, I don’t shoot until I have perceived a threat and I’m going to use deadly force,” Olson says.

“We don’t shoot because we don’t know. We shoot because there is a threat.”

Olson says the trend of body camera use by officers at all levels, local and national, is a positive one, because it allows the public to see when the use of force is justified, and it also allows trainers like him to have real teaching moments.

“I actually like to see [officers] have body cameras on, because more times than not, it shows the law enforcement officers, given all of this stuff going on, with this situation, with the tension, with crowd surrounding them, all sorts of stuff going on, they so many more times than not, they make the right decision,” he says. “And then sadly, though, we see times when law enforcement officers don’t make the right decisions. And I think it’s important for us to see that. It’s important for me to see that, right? Because I use those scenarios which I think are not – weren’t handled well, I use those as training opportunities. So every time we get together, I call it talks with Uncle Jim. I tell the agents these stories of ‘ here is a police officer, this is what happened.’ And it’s where good things happened, where there was incredible bravery, incredible courage and the officers did the right things, or even these ones there – it’s a great teaching opportunity.”

“And then we talk about it. What could have been done differently? Did this have to end this way?”

Users can find FBI Confidential on the KSL Newsradio website and app, as well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play.

You can sign up for the next round of the FBI Citizens’ Academy in Salt Lake City. Applications are due by July 31, 2018. You can apply here, or nominate someone to attend here. Any questions should be directed to madams2@fbi.gov.

Listen on Google Play Music

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Today’s Top Stories

Crime, Police + Courts

The Goonies House...
Taylor Romine and Ralph Ellis, CNN

Man wanted for leaving a dead fish at ‘The Goonies’ house saved by Coast Guard in daring rescue

A man wanted by police in an incident at a house featured in "The Goonies" was the subject of a Coast Guard rescue when he was tossed from a stolen boat as it capsized, authorities said.
17 hours ago
SLCPD said the driver is fully cooperating with the investigation and the children received non-lif...
Chandler Holt

SLCPD makes arrest connected to fatal stabbing case

SLCPD announced the arrest of 26-year-old Ivy Chase Grant today. Grant was booked into Salt Lake County Metro Jail on a charge of obstruction of justice. 
17 hours ago
Salt Lake City Police say three sticks of dynamite were safely removed from a house this week by it...
Mark Jones

Three sticks of dynamite removed from Salt Lake City home

Three sticks of dynamite were removed from a Salt Lake City home on Wednesday, the SLCPD announced. The dynamite have been seized for investigation.
2 days ago
defraud...
Britt Johnson

Utah County men facing charges for defrauding the United States

The claims state that Zachary Bassett and Mason Warr used a fraudulent tax scheme to receive COVID-19-related relief funds.
2 days ago
Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan, sponsor of HB297 Victim Services Amendments, poses for a portrait at...
Katie McKellar, Deseret News

A Utah lawmaker and her sister at odds: Should rape victims need to contact police before getting an abortion?

Rep. Kera Birkeland says her bill focuses on rape victim services and holding rapists accountable. But her sister, a rape survivor, says it strips away choices.
2 days ago
On Jan. 31, 2023, a missing Arizona girl was found and rescued from the basement of a registered se...
Elizabeth Weiler

Missing girl from Arizona found in West Valley basement

On Jan. 31, 2023, a missing Arizona girl was found and rescued from the basement of a registered sex offender. 
2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Banner with Cervical Cancer Awareness Realistic Ribbon...
Intermountain Health

Five Common Causes of Cervical Cancer – and What You Can Do to Lower Your Risk

January is National Cervical Cancer Awareness month and cancer experts at Intermountain Health are working to educate women about cervical cancer, the tests that can warn women about potential cancer, and the importance of vaccination.
Kid holding a cisco fish at winterfest...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Get Ready for Fun at the 2023 Bear Lake Monster Winterfest

The Bear Lake Monster Winterfest is an annual weekend event jam-packed full of fun activities the whole family can enjoy. This year the event will be held from January 27-29 at the Utah Bear Lake State Park Marina and Sunrise Resort and Event Center in Garden City, Utah. 
happy friends with sparklers at christmas dinner...
Macey's

15 Easy Christmas Dinner Ideas

We’ve scoured the web for you and narrowed down a few of our favorite Christmas dinner ideas to make your planning easy. Choose from the dishes we’ve highlighted to plan your meal or start brainstorming your own meal plan a couple of weeks before to make sure you have time to shop and prepare.
Spicy Homemade Loaded Taters Tots...
Macey's

5 Game Day Snacks for the Whole Family (with recipes!)

Try these game day snacks to make watching football at home with your family feel like a special occasion. 
Happy joyful smiling casual satisfied woman learning and communicates in sign language online using...
Sorenson

The Best Tools for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Workplace Success

Here are some of the best resources to make your workplace work better for Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees.
Team supporters celebrating at a tailgate party...
Macey's

8 Delicious Tailgate Foods That Require Zero Prep Work

In a hurry? These 8 tailgate foods take zero prep work, so you can fuel up and get back to what matters most: getting hyped for your favorite
Under the gun: how the FBI trains for split-second decisions