When to use deadly force: Springfield FBI agents explain their policy, training

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WMBD) — The use of deadly force is a tough action law enforcement agents are trained for and say should only be used when ‘absolutely necessary.’

The FBI Springfield division allowed WMBD into their facility for an inside look at some of their training and protocols for when to use the deadly defense.

According to the FBI’s deadly force policy: Law enforcement officers in the Department of Justice may use deadly force only when necessary. That is when an officer has a reasonable belief that the subject of such force poses an imminent danger of death or serious physical injury to the officer or to another person.

“We repeat that before any warrant is served, whether search warrant or arrest warrant, and range day,” Ryan Beck, the Chief Division Counsel for the Springfield’s FBI Office, said. “We go over that, we memorize this [and] it is what we are bound by.”

Beck said deadly force situations are some of the most uncertain and unnerving scenarios that agents can find themselves in. He said these are instances where agents have to make life or death decisions in a flash.

“A situation could be deadly force, then a second later it could go to no-deadly force, and then it could go back to deadly force again,” Beck said.

He said these determinations are also made by the facts and circumstances known to the agents at the time and the reasonable inferences that can be made.

Robert Bailey, the SWAT team’s senior team leader and Principal Firearms Instructor, said the agents memorize and this policy before every operation.

“Nanoseconds you have to decide when to utilize this policy,” Bailey said.

A spokesperson for the Springfield FBI office said the Springfield FBI hasn’t had a deadly force situation since the 2016 Dracy “Clint” Pendleton standoff. In this case, police said Pendleton shot a cop during a traffic stop near Champaign, Illinois, and fled the scene. Officers said this incident led to a weeklong manhunt that ended in a fatal shootout in Southern Illinois between Pendleton, police, and the FBI swat team.

Bailey said trainings for these instances are constant.

He said agents go through an annual deadly force training with Ryan Beck and at least four times a year they have to take firearms training as a bare minimum threshold.

“But all of our agents in Springfield get many more opportunities than that,” Bailey said.

Bailey said one of the agents’ training tools is a Milo Range simulator. It’s virtual training, where hundreds of scenarios are programmed ranging from terrorist threats, traffic stops, school shootings, and search warrants gone wrong.

Agents interact with the screen while a real-life scenario is playing. They use fake guns and, depending on the situation, have to determine whether to use deadly force.

“The overall goal is when agents are out in the field accomplishing their mission, they’re not actually surprised,” Bailey said. “They’ve seen something similar before and can they can fall back and think clearly about their deadly force policy and do what they need to do.”

If the agents decide to pull the trigger, they have to justify why, as they would during an actual review.

Beck said there are also other factors to consider when determining whether to use deadly force. He said agents have to consider risks to third parties, is the subject fleeing to gain a tactical advantage over the agents, does the subject have a weapon with the intent to use it.

“Just because someone is armed, that does not mean you can use deadly force against them,” Beck said. “Illinois, for example, has concealed carry laws and other states have open carry laws. They have to also have an intent to use it against yourself or others.”

Agents said in these situations, the main goals are to eliminate the threat and preserve life — be it the life of the suspect, third parties, or their own.

“If I’m the only officer or agent that’s engaging with that person that’s trying to end my life, by me terminating his threat saves my life,” Shannon Fontenot, Assistant Special Agent in Charge, said. “If we can save their life, but also save ourselves or others, so life is preserved in either way.”

But when it comes to eliminating threats, Bailey said delivering the final blow is usually the final recourse.

“Deadly Force is something we almost use as a last means, we’re going to try other things first,” Bailey said.

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