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September 12, 2012 - Stephen Browne
Researching and writing the article "Deadly force decisions" for Monday's paper was the most intense experience I've had at the Independent to date - and that includes donning harness and climbing to the top of the MERIT Center wind tower simulator.
Though the article ran more than 900 words, I could easily have made it twice as long. Because what I didn't include was, I got to try a few simulations myself.
Trainer Matt Loeslie let me try the LASERSHOT simulator out with a pistol during a break between officer trainings.
Let me explain, though I haven't had much to do with firearms for some years, I'm passing familiar with them. I am not a stranger to interpersonal violence in odd parts of the world, and I have seen violent death.
Years ago I was within earshot of a deadly force encounter in Oklahoma and clearly remember the sequence of shots. And I remember many years ago a certain idiot youth and friend darn near did get shot doing something stupid that scared an officer near a crime scene under low-light conditions.
The police of course, are pros and have extensive training in these kinds of scenarios. The simulator is designed to bring an element of realism that gun ranges can't have. I asked if the simulator induces stress. Some officers said it can sometimes. One joked that media presence was a great stress provider.
Then my turn came. I left shaken. I'm still a little shaken.
One scenario: a man in an apartment hallway holding a knife to a woman's throat screaming he was going to kill her. There were bystanders in the narrow space.
After trying out the commands to drop the knife, just like I'd seen the officers do, I took the shot at the suspects head. Replay showed I got him. Very possibly grazed the victim but certainly saved her life.
Loeslie complimented my shooting, and asked gently if I could have taken the shot earlier.
Could have, and should have. The fact is I was caught up in it and did not want anyone to die.
Lesson learned: under American law an officer's duty is to protect life, including the life of a suspect. But sometimes the choice is forced upon them of who is going to die.
The last scenario I tried was a prolonged horror. Answering a call to a high school where a "hit list" was found in a student's locker. A pretty young girl is summoned out of class and asked to explain.
Everything went south from there, and I probably did pretty much everything wrong.
She goes to her locker ignoring all commands to stay where she was. She opened her locker, ignoring commands to show her hands, pulls out a cell phone. I shot.
The scenario should have ended there, but I think Loeslie had stepped out of the room and the scenario kept playing. (Fact is, I don't know. It was that absorbing.)
Girl calls her mother and has a very disturbed conversation.
Then she puts the cell phone back, ignoring continued commands to be still, and this time pulls out a gun.
Ignoring commands to put it down she then put it to her head and finally pulled the trigger.
Startled by the sound of the shot, I shot her again as she fell. It couldn't have made her any deader, but I was horrified.
Later with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight it occurred to me I should have had a Taser rather than a pistol. I didn't have the Taser simulator but I could have said "Taser!" to indicate a transition from pistol to Taser. I should NEVER have let the girl open the locker, perhaps should have restrained her physically or even Tasered her.
Yes, I know how that would have looked in the press if a gun hadn't been found in the locker.
I draw two conclusions from this experience.
One is that I am VERY glad the technology for this kind of training exists. This is not the kind of decision-making skill one wants officers to learn "on the job."
The other is, I think every journalist who covers the police beat should try out this training.
And it wouldn't hurt the general population to see some of these scenarios either. Especially those involving traffic stops, low-light conditions, etc.
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