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Officer-involved shootings a split-second decision

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PHOENIX (CBS5) -

There were at least four officer-involved shootings in and around the greater Phoenix metro area over the past weekend. Each ended in officers shooting and killing someone.

Thousands of police officers go their entire careers never having to pull the trigger in the line of duty. It is not something they ever want to do. But it is something they train for.

Each officer-involved shooting is unique. No two are the same, according to retired Phoenix police Lt. Rob Robinson. The 27-year police veteran now works as a consultant and expert witness in police involved shootings.

Sometimes he works defending officers; other times he represents surviving family members of the person shot and killed by officers.

"Anytime you have an officer-involved shooting, it's based upon the perception of the officer. Whether he feels that he is in substantial risk of harm to himself, to another, to a third person, and he has to process that information as the attack, if it is an attack, is occurring," Robinson said.

On April 19, three Phoenix officers opened fire and killed a suspect who pretended to point a weapon at them. The next day, different Phoenix officers confronted a suspect who did point a gun at them. He, too, was shot and killed. Each time an officer shoots, the decision is made in a split second.

"The average person can move their hand from their side to a 90-degree angle across their chest in about 12 one-hundredths of a second. A police officer reacting to that would take approximately a second and a half to be able to draw his weapon and be able to stop the attack," Robinson said.

The decision, according to Robinson, is based on officer perception - what the officer hears, sees and perceives.

In another incident from Saturday, four Phoenix officers were dealing with a suspect who raised a wooden object at them. One of the four officers shot and killed the suspect.

"You could have an officer and put him in the same situation twice over different periods of time and the reaction may be completely different," said Robinson.

People often criticize police for shooting at a person's chest, which is likely more fatal than shooting for a limb.

"If you get a sight picture on somebody's arm, let's say, or hand that's holding a weapon and you go to fire, a person can move their hand out of range much quicker than the officer can pull the trigger," Robinson said.

Officers are trained to stop the threat.

"A Taser, it doesn't always stop an attack. Studies have proven over the years that a Taser doesn't work on some people. It works on other people. If you have the justification to use deadly force, you're authorized to fire your weapon to stop the attack," Robinson said.

Officer-involved shootings are investigated by homicide detectives and also separately by internal affairs specialists. The findings are also reviewed by the county attorney's office. Robinson said that officers have checks and balances to assure officers involved in shootings are following the law.

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