MARSHALL - It is possible for law enforcement officers to go through their entire careers without ever having to unholster their firearm in the line of duty. But in every contact with a suspect, an officer holds his own life, the life of the suspect, and the lives of bystanders in his hands.
Marshall Police Department officers on Monday attended a training session by Minnesota West Community and Technical College called Shoot-Don't Shoot, at the MERIT Center. Officers trained with the LASERSHOT Firearms Training Simulator, using real weapons converted into laser pointers.
"The purpose is deadly-force decision making," said Matthew Loeslie, law enforcement training director at Minnesota West. "That's why we do this. We can get years and years of experience in deadly force encounters in a half-hour."
Photo by Steve Browne
Matthew Loeslie, law enforcement training director at Minnesota West Community and Technical College, shows a modified AR-15 rifle used in the Shoot-Don’t Shoot training seminar for Marshall Police Officers at the MERIT Center on Monday. The rifle has been equipped with a laser pointer and CO2 cartridges to make the bolt cycle.
Officers came in to do training in pairs. Loeslie selected a set of scenarios out of dozens stored on the LASERSHOT computer, and set up the scenario for the officers as if informed about the situation by a police dispatcher.
Loeslie controlled the way the scenario went from the computer keyboard, based on the officers' reactions. After each scenario Loeslie asked officers if they'd have done anything different and showed a replay that showed shot placement.
Before each session, Loeslie handed officers a copy of a news report of an incident during a hostage situation in Woodbury recently.
According to KSTP.com, a man held 11 people at gunpoint in a motel surrounded by police. At one point a young man saw an opportunity to escape and ran. The hostage-taker shot at him. Police, hearing the shots and seeing a man running at them, shot the hostage 12 times. The hostage later died in the hospital.
Training scenarios involved use of an AR-15 rifle, a Glock automatic pistol and a Taser simulator. The situations tested whether it was appropriate to shoot or not, and when. All scenarios showed on the screen from the officers' point of view.
Loeslie set up the first scenario in the Western Mental Health parking lot. A patient was reported to be acting erratically. When officers arrived, the patient assumed a boxing stance and spit at them, shouting abuse and singing.
"Hands out! Hands out! Put your hands down!" shouted Officer Sara VanLeeuwe.
The officers Taser the suspect, who falls to the ground, unhurt but helpless.
In another scenario, officers respond to a hostage situation reported in a 911 hangup call. Officers enter an apartment to find a man holding a gun to the head of a seated woman.
After repeated warnings, all officers in the training shoot.
Loeslie asked all the participants, "Are you sure that was the right response?" All offices throughout the training sessions were sure.
The scenario replayed without the officer shooting shows the man murder the woman with a shot to the head in horrifying detail, then turn the gun and fire three times at the officers.
Loeslie held his finger to his own head and asked, "You have a gun pointed at me, who has the tactical advantage?"
The correct answer is, the man with the gun, Loeslie said.
"Action is always faster than reaction," Loeslie said. "He can turn the gun on you and shoot faster than you can shoot."
Though many scenarios have clear black-and-white answers, some were ambiguous and some had no perfectly correct answer.
A traffic stop scenario was shown that played out in two ways. In one, the driver goes back to his car against an officer's commands, turns and points a cell phone menacingly. Though unarmed, an officer who shot the suspect would be exonerated because the officers could not be expected to see the object clearly in the time presented. The second version showed the same actions by the suspect, except this time he had a gun.
And in one nightmarish scenario, officers were presented with an active shooter situation in the corridor of a school. Two bodies were lying in the corridor and a group of screaming students rushed down the hall. It was not easy to see, but a man in back of the crowd had a gun. Officers had to decide whether to take a shot before the shooter turned a corner.
A decision had to be made within a split-second, weighing the risks of missing the shooter and hitting a student, having a bullet go through the shooter and hitting a student, or not shooting and taking the risk the shooter would have time to empty his gun into the crowd once around the corner.
Officers were evaluated on different criteria including verbal commands, threat recognition, observation and judgement.
"What I like about this is they have different scenarios," Buysse said. "It's good because it encompasses real life situations, not just paper targets."
Though officers sometimes made different decisions in the more complicated scenarios, no officer shot a suspect in a training scenario when it was clearly not justified.