A few of our classes were more interactive,where we got to do simulation exercises with a laser gun as well as wear a duty belt with a fake gun and taser.
In the simulator, we were presented with a large screen through the perspective of an officer responding to a possible shooter situation. We gave commands to the actors on the screen as if we were the officers and we had to give commands and make split-second decisions on whether or not to fire our gun.
Even though it was just me, two officers, a fake gun and a big screen…I still found my hands shaking a bit, being on the spot.
This experience provided a small glimpse into the quick decision-making process officers may go through all while under stress. After each scene, we reviewed what happened and, if we did discharge our weapon, we could see from the laser gun, where we ended up shooting. In one instance, I shot the perpetrator in the head (!), in the next…well, let’s just say, if my aim had been better, I would need a hypothetical lawyer for my short career as a hypothetical officer.
The BPD’s training center, which is located at an old high school, has a few rooms staged for scenarios to act out. One room is a pretend bar-we used this room when learning about forensics as well.
For our lesson in the scenario room, we paired up with a partner, each wearing a duty belt with a taser on one side and a gun on the other. We were expected to work and communicate with our partner to de-escalate a situation, this one being a man with a knife in the bar, threatening to kill himself.
First off, I was not feeling well that night, so I will chalk up my inability to use my psychology background to talk the subject down successfully. I took the lead, but failed to work effectively with my partner. At one point, he moved towards us, prompting me to take out the taser…and then the gun. Laughably, I had my hands full with my arms crossed,at which point the trainer helped me put my gun back in the holster.
Afterward, the trainers debriefed us on what we did and did not do correctly.
It’s easy to be an arm-chair quarterback and say “Well, if I were in that situation, I would do (insert XYZ brilliant thing)” but we really don’t know what we would do in any given situation, especially in a high stress, high stakes one.
That being said, I am definitely not suggesting that most police violence is justified, as I believe many are not. Keep in mind-I am not a trained professional doing this for a living. While these experiences were useful in seeing an officer’s perspective and understanding the decision-making process they may go through, it does not exonerate most shootings in my mind. Still, you do get an inkling of the gray areas involved and how easily innocent mistakes can be made.
I think it is very important to have at least some understanding of both sides and it is not an either/or choice. We can both support blue lives AND black lives. We need to support the good cops, hold the bad apples accountable, and work to understand and fix systemic problems from within if we hope to see change.