Cops must quickly decide: shoot or don't shoot?

CLEVELAND - In a matter of seconds, cops are sometimes forced to make a life and death decision. Shoot or don't shoot?

In an exclusive report, Tom Meyer, The Investigator, put the gun in your hands to determine if Cleveland police officers are trigger-happy or if there's a good reason for a recent spike in police shootings.

In a recent incident, officers shoot and kill a teen-ager and critically wound another. It was one of nine shootings -- six deadly -- involving Cleveland Police last year. The shootings prompted police to re-write the book on the use of deadly force.

"We gave a test that they had to pass or they wouldn't be going out on the streets," Cleveland Police Chief Ed Lohn said.

At hearings this year, city council demanded answers about police training. The answer was that top brass orders every officer to be re-trained under a new nine-page deadly force policy.

"We go beyond state guidelines," Cleveland Safety Director James Draper said.

Shoot or don't shoot? It's a split-second decision. You make the choice.

Police in Garfield Heights put The Investigator to the test by running a simulation.

In one simulated situation, had The Investigator shot his gun, the headlines would have read "Cop kills kid on bike" because there was a child behind the gunman in the distance.

"Things happen in seconds," Lohn said. "Things happen with no lighting. Things happen with low lighting."

Police react to real-life cases on film to help them decide when to pull the trigger. They must react quickly while keeping in mind all of the rules regarding the use of deadly force.

In one interactive film, police respond to a call of a man with a gun. Garfield Heights officer Dale Merchant can shoot if his life or someone else's life is in danger. It was, and he did.

Had Merchant not fired, he would have paid that ultimate price. In the past decade, 45 officers in Ohio, including five in Cleveland, have been killed in the line of duty.

"We're human. We value human life," Lohn said. "We don't want to hurt anyone. We don't want to be in a confrontation any more than anyone else out there."

Yet another situation showed a man with a gun seemingly aiming it at somebody, but if you were a police officer and fired at that person, the headlines would have read "Cop kills man with water pistol."

It's a dilemma -- one that police deal with often. One that Cleveland is handling with aggressive new training.

By the way, of the nine shootings last year involving Cleveland Police, all were ruled justifiable.