First person shooter: Scenario training helps cops prepare for high-pressure encounters

This guy is going 90 mph so I pull him over. He is irate, apparently at me, and although I have never seen him before in my life, he wants me to kill him. What I’m really afraid of is that he will try to kill me first.

He’s white, 30s, driving an SUV, and that’s all I really recall. I guess he said he intended to shoot me, but I don’t remember that. I don’t remember much, including how many bullets I fired into him before he slumped to the ground.

This is a drill, only a drill, on a training simulator a few weeks ago in the basement of the Bremerton Police Department. At this point, nobody associated Pasco with Ferguson or Staten Island.

Although questions about the use of force by police have been steadily in the center of the national consciousness since the shooting death of Michael Brown by a Missouri city police officer in August, the fatal shooting Tuesday of a rock-throwing man by police in the Tri-Cities has brought the discussion home again.

The scenario is projected on a wall. An officer at the controls can escalate or tone down the situation, the weapons on my “belt” are borrowed from Laser Tag, but for our purposes they are a Taser and a Glock.

The man who just led me on a 90 mph chase to a residential neighborhood is screaming at me, telling me to shoot him.

“C’mon!” he keeps screaming at me.

I keep telling him to calm down, just calm down and we can talk about it. He keeps screaming. He’s going back to the truck. What has he got in the truck? He’s not listening to me, he’s out of control. I reach for my Taser.

Showing the public the scenario training demonstrates to non-cops the preheated conflicts officers waltz into, however, Police Chief Steve Strachan said it isn’t meant to shock people into concluding the police are always right. They are human, Strachan said, they make mistakes and should be held accountable. The point of training is to reduce mistakes.

In the same way police work to understand the challenges of dealing with a diverse population, including the mentally ill, he said showing city officials, ministers and a reporter the exercises can expand the discussion. It can help the public understand how police train to secure the safety of others, themselves and choose the appropriate level of force under terrifying circumstances.

“It isn’t to say anything the police do is justified,” Strachan said. “Because it isn’t.”

It is, however, terrifying.

Bremerton City Councilwoman Leslie Daugs talked down a disturbed man holding a gun to his head, while training her gun on him.

“Oh my God, I’m sweating,” she said after the man put the gun down.

Even with unarmed people, situations can spin out of control. In addition to weapons, lethal and non-lethal, officers use their hands, but they are limited to their size, strength and speed. If they choose the wrong person to grapple with, their weapons can be used against them.

“Every time I’m in fight with a guy who is unarmed, there is still a gun in that fight,” said Officer Duke Roessel.

Currently, a fatal June shooting of Thomas Daniel Rogers, 36, by Port Orchard Police is under review by Prosecutor Tina Robinson. Police had gone to arrest Rogers on felony warrants from Oklahoma for sexually assaulting children. Rogers, who investigators said was armed with a kitchen knife, allegedly wounded one officer in the encounter. In an eerie coincidence, in October, Rogers’ brother, Jason Rogers, 35, was fatally shot by police in Oklahoma following up a domestic violence report. Jason Rogers allegedly pulled a gun on the officers, according to media reports.

Incidents involving force are usually inflammatory, one of the lesser reasons Strachan said he has never known a cop who wanted to use his or her gun. When the incidents are caught on video, the situation explodes. On top of the issue of police accountability and training, the deaths trigger frustrations people have with poverty and racism, Strachan said.

“I’m not justifying anything, I don’t know what happened,” Strachan said of the Pasco shooting. But when videos can be watched over and over, “People want an answer now, they want a statement that is strong now.”

He added, “It doesn’t feel good, but we have to take a step back.”

Back to my suicide by cop, who is a step away from the SUV and is saying something I can’t remember.

He’s going back to the vehicle, like he is going to show me. Whatever it is, I don’t want to see it.

Gun, I think. Gun. Oh, crap, he’s going for a gun.

I reach for my Taser. Good old trusty Taser. That should do the trick. A little non-lethal force. He’ll go down and we’ll both be fine.

“Taser failed!” I hear from behind me. Taser failed. It takes a second to sink in. Taser failed. I don’t really have a second to ponder the meaning of those words. My stomach drops. I don’t have time to think.

I’m still yelling at him to get away from the vehicle, to calm down, to just calm down.

He’s not listening. “OK,” I say out loud, as if to say, you asked for it.

Out comes the Glock. Both hands. Finger on the trigger. He’s got something in his hands. It’s the butt of a gun. It’s a shotgun. I’m focused on the barrel. He’s holding it like a gift he wants to give me. I’m waiting. What am I waiting for? The guy is smiling. He’s actually smiling. I can’t wait until I’m staring down the business end of that thing, I don’t want to do this.

He’s turning it on me. He’s still smiling.

I pull the trigger. I don’t know how many times. Maybe two? Maybe just once?

The guy crumpled. I killed him.

My scenario was pretty clear-cut. He was armed, and not with a rock. He was facing me and went for a gun, not his driver’s license. He moved slow enough that I had more time to react than I likely would have had in real life.

The lights come on. I’m shaking.

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