LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - To shoot or not to shoot? After 2020, it’s a question facing police departments across America.
In Elizabethtown, Chris Elam has taken it upon himself to teach officers the answer to that question. Elam, a 27-year veteran of law enforcement, is one of the department’s firearms instructors and active shooter instructors.
When Elam isn’t patrolling the streets, he’s in his lab, a brick-walled room with a PC and a projector.
His objective is officer training.
“You can’t game the system, because there’s so many situations in here that you’d have to use this thing almost every single day to know all the different branches,” Elam said.
Within the computer is a $35,000 simulation of thousands of virtual scenarios. Each virtual encounter ends when the officer decides to fire his weapon or not.
Elam told WAVE 3 News a majority of the situations are considered “non-shoot.”
“Again, this is not about shooting people,” he said. “It’s about using proper response to resistance and we don’t want to give the officers the idea that every situation needs to be resolved with a handgun.”
The department views the $35,000 price tag, half of which is taxpayer money, as a good investment. Officers are required to use the virtual training system at least twice a year. The department also invites citizen groups to use the software in an attempt to bridge the gap between police and community.
Even more, since the program’s inception four years ago, Elizabethtown Police Public Information Officer Chris Denham told WAVE 3 News there’s been only one officer-involved shooting.
“I would say we probably train more than any department in the state, easily as much as any other department,” Elam said. “But I would put our training, not only the amount of training but the quality of training, up against any department in the state.”
For this department, Elam said safety goes beyond a dark training room and a projector.
Based on FBI statistics from 2019, the Elizabethtown-Fort Knox metropolitan area has the fifth lowest violent crime rate in the country: 99.8 violent crimes per 100,000 people.
Elam attributes that numbers to the people who live in Elizabethtown.
“Our citizens like us,” Elam said. “We have a good relationship, and I attribute a lot of that to just that’s the type of people that live here in Etown.”
The love between police and community is taped on the department walls in the form of cards, letters and newspaper clippings. Alongside them are the department’s eight “Organizational Values,” which remind officers why they wear the badge.
Elam explained that police and citizens have a unique relationship that helps make the city they live in safer.
“We wouldn’t be as successful as we are but for the people that we’re speaking to,” he said.
Denham told WAVE 3 News the department plans to restart their Citizens Police Academy in the spring if the COVID-19 pandemic allows.
To see more FBI data, click here.