Special Report: Training Those Who Protect and Serve

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 GASTONIA, NC — Law enforcement officers have to make split-second decisions, with life and death hanging in the balance. The men and women who protect and serve have to fall back on their training. Training that needs to be relevant and realistic.

“We want them to understand that it is real,” says firearms instructor Eddie Lovingood. “It does happen. And you’ve got to prepare yourself that that might be me one of these days.”

400 police killings are reported to the FBI every year by local law enforcement across the country, and the numbers are on the rise.

“You’ve got to mentally prepare yourself that today when you walk out of your home, this may be the day that I may have to fire that weapon, that I’ve been trained to do,” says Lovingood.

We see situations where things have gone wrong for an officer. When an unarmed citizen or suspect has been shot and sometimes killed.

But Gastonia Police Department detective Eddie Lovingood says it’s not from a lack of training.   Lovingood trains officers at the Firearms and Tactical Training Center. That training starts from the ground up, teaching all aspects of the weapons used to protect and serve.

North Carolina requires law enforcement officers to undergo 40 hours of firearm training on the range before being certified.

“That doesn’t mean that you are automatically ready to go out into the world where the citizens live, and everyone lives, with that weapon,” says Lovingood. “We want to make sure that you make good choices with that weapon, and that you’re ready at a moment’s notice if you do need it.”

The training on the tactical range gets officers their certification, and it also gets them ready for real world situations.

Shooting targets on the range is just part of the training. Gastonia PD Assistant Chief Mike Smith says there is a psychology involved, helping officers understand the real life intensity they will face.  

“If you’re ever in a real world situation, which we hope is never the case,” says Smith. “But you want to make sure the officer is prepared for that. It’s not a paper target, and people do shoot back.”

The officers are pushed hard. Shooting in a variety of situations, from different distances, while turning up the intensity and physicality.

“Even get you into situations where you’re moving as you’re shooting, whether you’re walking or even running in some situations,” says Lovingood. “You’re going to make those quick decisions on whether you’re going to use that deadly force, or not use it. But I don’t know that you can completely prepare somebody at that moment.”

Officers must re-certify each year, putting in another four hours on the range.

And those officers who do use their weapon in the line of duty?

“We try to make sure that you go and have an opportunity to talk to somebody,” says Smith. “And anybody that’s involved, we also give them an opportunity to talk to someone, and make sure that they have a good understanding of what happened.”

Lovingood is a 15-year veteran with the Gastonia PD. He says situations where officers have to fire their weapons are rare, but having the training to do so can make all the difference.  

“Thankfully, the majority of those work out and you don’t actually have to pull the trigger,” says Lovingood. “But there is a confidence level that comes with knowing that you have that weapon.”

Firearms training is part of a state-mandated, 620-hour Basic Law Enforcement Training curriculum that must be completed before someone is sworn in as an officer.