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Simulator prepares recruits for critical decision-making 

IN AN INSTANT

click to enlarge CSPD recruits take aim during a use-of-force exercise at the Training Academy. - COURTSEY  CSPD
  • Courtsey CSPD
  • CSPD recruits take aim during a use-of-force exercise at the Training Academy.

Indy Senior Reporter Pam Zubeck and I can see through the open doorway. There’s a police officer lying on the ground, motionless. A man, perhaps in his 50s, is crouched over him. There’s a gun in front of him, within his reach.

“Police, let me see your hands!”

The man instead reaches for the firearm.

“Police, put down the gun!”

Casually, the man picks it up. Does he think he’s helping? Is he a threat? Why isn’t he responding? Maybe he’s deaf? Can he speak English?

In a split second, he swings the barrel of the gun into a firing position.

Four shots ring out.

Colorado Springs Police Offi- cer Bryce Macomber slows the frames of the video to fractions of a second. You can see exactly when the gun goes from concern to threat, and where the four rounds from my 9mm pistol would have hit the target via icons on the computer screen.

The whole experience, from the scenario to the feedback, is part of working with a Ti Training Use of Force Simulator at the Colorado Springs Police Department Training Academy.

A simulation is projected on a wall in a dark room, allowing prospective police officers to experience the stresses and split-second decisions that can have career- and life-altering consequences.

Scenarios range from a simple traffic stop meant to stress the importance of attention to detail (Zubeck saw a gun in the open door; the vast majority of recruits miss this because the driver is wearing a bikini top), to a passerby spontaneously opening fire on an occupied squad car for no reason. And the trainers do their best to inject realism, from setting up cover to using a windshield prop and seats to make situations as true to life as possible.

The recruits are encouraged to talk to the simulator and de-escalate situations. Macomber, from a computer in the back of the room, determines whether the recruits are doing an adequate job in communicating and how the contacts will interact.

If force is needed, the simulation utilizes real firearms custom-fitted with gas cartridges that cause recoil when the trigger is pulled, and a laser that determines where shots “hit.”

Ti’s system also allows for Taser training, as well as what is commonly referred to as pepper spray using a real canister fitted with a laser.

One simulation includes an angry homeless man who won’t leave a soup kitchen’s property. One trainee offered the man a sandwich.

“I stopped it right there,” Macomber says. “When we go to a call for service, we have to try to make everybody happy. What does the reporting party want? They want him gone. What does he want? Lunch. Oh!

“This gets them thinking outside the box. Is he trespassing? Technically. Is it a mandatory arrest? No. If you can end this call and he’s happy and she’s happy, that’s what we’re teaching here. De-escalate and move on.”

The final scenario ended with me, a police officer (if only for a moment), shooting a man who picked up a gun.

It happened in an instant.

In the scenario right before, I didn’t use my Taser in time on someone suspected of breaking into a warehouse. He fired four shots at my partner and me.

It happened in an instant.

Macomber told us, “We look for progress, not perfection. If they improve, that’s what we want.”

But the public often looks for perfection when it comes to police shootings. After all, a job that allows one to take another’s life should have an elevated threshold of accountability. But what is often forgotten is that most people in law enforcement are likely just trying to do their job and make it home to their families alive. And they, like the rest of us, are fallible. These shootings happen in an instant, Macomber points out, but the time left to analyze and place blame goes on forever.

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