Shoot, Don’t shoot… How law enforcement decides

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SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. -- When faced with a life-threatening situation, law enforcement officers sometimes have to make split-second decisions.

But when do they pull their gun and use deadly force? When is it justified?

Calls have been pouring into the newsroom with viewers at home asking those very questions.

WREG’s Katie Rufener went to investigate and show you what deputies are trained to do when lives are at stake.

The Shelby County Sheriff's office has a program that simulates a shooting scenario.

So, we decided to test how Katie, as a citizen, would react, versus a seasoned, trained deputy.

Officer Jay Jones is a 16-year veteran with the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office.

In one video simulation a biker refuses to do what Jones tells him. Then he puts his hand behind him and pulls out a gun.

Jones shoots the biker.

It can happen that quickly. “Sometimes we can’t see in a vehicle what he’s reaching for," he explained.

When responding to a dangerous situation, Jones said it can be difficult for law enforcement to determine when to pull the trigger.

But if the person is ignoring repeated commands or makes sudden movements like the man drawing a gun in the simulator, they do what they have to to protect lives, including their own.

WREG reporter Katie Rufener went through the same scenario as Officer Jones.

Katie told the person to show their hands just like he did. She repeated that command ten times. He didn't not listen, and when the man reached in his pocket, Katie shot.

But this time, the man didn’t have a gun. “At that point, what he pulled out was a handkerchief," Helms told Katie. "But did you feel threatened?" She answered, "I did.”

Lieutenant Kevin Helms has had to make quick decisions like that several times over the years. “I’ve been involved in two shootings. I’ve been shot myself and had to shoot two people, myself," he said. "If I could give those days back, I’d give them back in a heartbeat.”

Every time there is an officer involved shooting, whether it is justified or not, Helms said it is investigated.

But regardless of what some may think, he said killing someone is never easy for officers. “That’s the last thing an officer wants to do, is have to use their weapon. But, there are times when individuals give us no choice, and that’s what we have to revert to."

Deputies say the most important thing is for people to understand how critical it is to respond to commands as soon as they’re given.

The sheriff’s office also has a team of deputies who are trained to handle situations involving those who are mentally ill.