EXCLUSIVE: Action News granted behind the scenes of active shooter training with St. Pete police

Posted at 3:07 PM, Oct 21, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-21 19:34:35-04

A grassy field in Pinellas County is a training ground for St. Petersburg police officers, veterans and cadets.

Cadets go through two weeks of intense training and every officer, no matter how long he or she has been there, also undergoes the intense training of responding to active shooters.

"This is on top of training we are doing all the time," training Sgt. J.D. Lofton said.

Lofton walked us through the three most common and dangerous confrontations: a traffic stop, a call about a suspicious person in a public place, and responding to someone in an emotionally unstable state.

"They are real world scenarios," Lofton said. "Things that have happened to the staff for the role players or things that have been on the news lately. And, this needs to be real world stuff, so they have the confidence that they can handle real world stuff.

"I feel comfortable saying that we are on the cutting edge of reality-based training. which is pretty much the wave of the future."

St. Petersburg police officers volunteer their time to role play as the suspects.

The weapons simulate real guns and bullets.

Lofton said this type of training is a necessity especially after the rise of "caught on video" police confrontations.

They have been violent protests in numerous cities, most recently Charlotte after the death of Keith Lamont Scott.

There also was a fatal police encounter in Minnesota, where the fiancee of a man name Philando Castile streamed everything live on Facebook.

Action News asked if  this type of training is more important than ever.

"I would say yes without a doubt, and without a doubt we have not been scrutinized more," Lofton said. "Cell phone videos are everywhere and YouTube.  But if it is on film I can also go back and look at it where as before when things would happen.

"We would read police reports. We would interview people and try to re-create a scenario. But now,
it's on tape playing out. I can go back and exactly re-create what happened over and over. And you just cannot replace that kind of training."

With officers under a microscope St. Pete police under the guidance of Police Chief Anthony Holloway has quadrupled training.

"If there are any opportunities, we are training," Lofton said.

And despite mounting criticism and racial tension, how situations are handled will not change.

Action News wanted to know why police are trained to use deadly force.

"You have to stop the threat," Lofton said. "Shooting for  the knee or the arm, it sounds really good, but it's also an extremely small target.

"For me to actually hit you in the hand and accomplish that Is like a one in a million shot. And if I miss I'm responsible for every bullet that leaves a barrel. Those bullets they don't have a conscience. They don't understand good guys and bad guys."

Lofton said that can pose a public danger.
"It is going to hit something, so I am responsible, For whatever, even if I'm not shooting at a person (who) is 25 feet behind him," Lofton said.

"If I miss and hit that person, I am still responsible for that.  We are held to that high standard and it's a big responsibility. So what we're basically doing is going for the biggest target. And that is usually the torso. It's not shoot to kill; it's shoot to stop the threat."

Lofton hopes people will remember police are the good guys.

"We are the filter for America," Lofton said. "If we did not filter out the bad stuff, this would be like the wild, wild west."