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Police Legal Adviser Explains Columbus Police's Policy On Using Deadly Force

Esther Honig
Columbus Police Chief Kim Jacobs holds a picture of a BB gun similar to the one Tyre King allgedly pulled from his waistband moments before he was shot by Officer Brian Mason.

The use of deadly force by Columbus Police remains under question as the investigation continues into the death of 13 year old Tyre King.  He was shot by an officer after police responded to an armed robbery on the Near East side.  Police say King pulled a BB gun from his waistband following a foot chase. King's family  wants an investigation. So how exactly are Columbus police officers trained to use deadly force?

Columbus Police officers receive training from both the police department and the city each year on the use of deadly force, said Assistant Columbus City Attorney and Columbus Police legal adviser Jeff Furbee.

But he says there's one common misconception about police training on deadly force: They're trained to neutralize a threat, not necessarily to kill.

Click the play button below to hear Furbee's conversation with WOSU's Debbie Holmes. 

The below transcript is a automated transcript of the above conversation. Please excuse minor typos and errors.

Debbie Holmes: So how often do officers get the training then on using deadly force?

Jeff Furbee: We do legal training with all recruits at the Columbus police academy. So every single Columbus police recruit receives legal training on using deadly force. We do in-service training every year during an officer's career, and during that in-service training we revisit, talk about legal standards relative to deadly force every single year with officers. And that's in addition to the training that the Division of Police does internally on using deadly force.

So it's a continual yearly process where officers are trained on, guided on using deadly force.

Debbie Holmes: What is the policy right now then? 

Jeff Furbee: Columbus police policies mirror the case law and the Constitution in the case law interpreting the Constitution. Tennessee versus Garner, Graham versus Conner are the Supreme Court cases that guide us on deadly force, on all uses of force and the Columbus Police Division directives mirror those cases. 

Which for deadly force which means an officer can use deadly force only when they have probable cause to believe a person is a threat of serious physical harm to the officer or others.

Debbie Holmes: Our officers are taught to shoot to kill or to neutralize a suspect?

Jeff Furbee: Officers are not trained to shoot to kill. That gets out there and it just simply isn't accurate. Officers are trained to shoot to stop the threat. I know you hear speculation out there from people in the public why can't they shoot him in the hand or shoot him in the leg.

Officers are trained to shoot to stop threat. To be honest with you I hear these arguments and we're asking the impossible of officers. Shooting a moving target at all is hard. Trying to shoot somebody in the hand is hard if not impossible. So officers are trained to shoot to stop the threat. That's it.

Debbie Holmes: And to shoot to stop the threat. That means, what you're shooting at the main part of a person?

Jeff Furbee: Generally speaking officers will shoot at center mass, because that's when they're most likely to hit the target. And you mentioned aiming at other body parts would be difficult. But just think about the logic of that trying to shoot somebody in the hand or arm.

How difficult that will be as opposed to aiming at center mass. One you'd probably miss them which, would allow them to shoot the officer or others. Two, you may hit other people. So aiming a center mass is not only the most effective way, but it's the safest way to accomplish the goal of stopping the threat.

Debbie Holmes: Do you see then policies through your 13 years have they gotten stricter for police officers as to when they're allowed to shoot someone or have they loosed? 

Jeff Furbee: They've stayed essentially the same because of Supreme Court cases have stayed the same. The legal standards haven't changed that much since the 80s essentially I think police departments look at them very closely. I think the Columbus Division of Police looks at every shooting very closely.

Debbie Holmes: Do you have any you know thoughts on all the anger that some people have as to you know what are the rules and why it seems that black men are getting targeted?

Jeff Furbee: I don't think black men are getting targeted. I don't see any evidence that, I've heard people be very cavalier in saying the officer murdered that child without knowing any facts. I don't think that's fair to anybody involved.

Second of all the legal standards don't change. The law is the law regardless of color. We can't say hey here's legal advice where if you encounter an African-American male, here's your legal advice if you encounter a white male. The legal standards are the same. So our legal advice is always the same. You need probable cause to believe that person is a threat of serious physical harm to you or others use deadly force.

Debbie Holmes: I've been talking with Assistant City Attorney Jeff Furbee about the use of deadly force. Thanks so much for talking with me.

Jeff Furbee: Thank you.

Debbie Holmes has worked at WOSU News since 2009. She has hosted All Things Considered, since May 2021. Prior to that she was the host of Morning Edition and a reporter.