Citizen’s Police Academy, Part 5

Week 5 of the Citizen’s Police Academy was “scenario night.” We spent the evening role playing police officers and were faced with a wide variety of situations. To call it interesting would be a gross understatement.

The class was divided into three groups, which gave each of us ample time to practice various skills and decision making. My group began with handcuffing and the use of batons. As the process of handcuffing was being explained, it seemed like a relatively easy skill to master. As the instructor was explaining the most efficient process, I practiced on one of my wrists, and I would do it relatively quickly. But when it came time to put cuffs on another student, my time easily tripled. Clothing and the position of the hands made it much more difficult. And that was with someone who wasn’t resisting.

We then used a baton to fight off two officers who used large foam pads to push and crowd us. It was a grueling exercise involving jabbing, swinging, and shouting. And the officers were trying to harm us.

In our first class, we were shown a photo with five or six officers restraining a man who was lying on the ground. They were attempting to handcuff him. Our instructor asked us if excessive force was being used. At the time, I said that I didn’t know because there were many facts that were unknown. Certainly, a photo of five officers subduing one suspect might look excessive. And while I can’t speak to that particular incident, I can certainly understand why so my officers might be needed. As I pointed out in Part 1, context matters.

My group then moved to the “shoot or don’t shoot” simulator. Armed with a laser pistol, we responded to a variety of calls and had to decide when to shoot and when to refrain from shooting. My first call involved an intoxicated man shooting at lights in a parking garage. When I confronted him, he turned toward me with his gun at his side. I was ready to shoot him, but when I commanded him to drop the weapon he did so.

My second call involved a domestic disturbance. The husband and wife were arguing loudly in the kitchen when we (I had a partner) entered the home. The husband was holding a baby. He demanded that we leave and shouted obscenities. After a few minutes, he suddenly grabbed a rolling pin and lunged at us. My partner and I did not fire, but we soon learned that we had just been beaten with the rolling pin. In my opinion, that was a flaw in the simulator, because it seemed that he was 6 to 8 feet away and just waving the pin menacingly. Regardless, it demonstrated how quickly a situation can change and become a threat to officers.

We then moved to the third stage which featured Constable Ted Heap as the suspect. In my scenario, we were dispatched to a scene that was described as a disturbance. As we approached, we heard a gunshot and immediately drew our weapons. We rounded the corner and found a woman lying on the ground with Heap kneeling beside her. I commanded him to move away and he launched into a tirade. He shouted that his wife was dying, and we needed to help her.

For the next ten minutes, we tried to calm him and secure the scene. He was hostile, often made moves towards us, and belittled us for not trying to save his wife. After about ten minutes, I noticed “blood” on one of his hands and asked him about it. At that point he quickly moved toward my partner and tried to get her gun. I “shot” him, or perhaps I shot my partner in the back. It wasn’t clear and we had no way of telling. But it was clear that the situation had escalated rapidly and spun out of control.

I knew that I was role playing and no harm was going to come to anyone. And yet, these scenarios were intense. I had to make decisions quickly, and information was often lacking. In one situation, I was dealing with someone who was intoxicated. In two others, I was dealing with individuals who were angry and hostile. In each instance, I had to judge the threat level and respond accordingly. Twice, the threat level escalated almost within the blink of an eye.

All of us have to occasionally make quick decisions with less information than we might prefer. But few of us have to make to do so in situations that involve life and death. Police officers do it on a regular basis. They don’t always get it right, but they do so more frequently than they often get credit for. I previously understood that in an abstract way. “Scenario night” made it concrete.

A short video of “scenario night” is on Facebook.

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