Scenario: You're an on-duty police officer and you get a call from a frightened resident reporting that an axe-wielding psycho is wandering around the neighborhood. You and your partner locate said psycho hiding out in his back yard blabbering to… apparently no one. You walk around to the back of the house, your partner walks around the front. The plan is to surround and contain the guy.
As you round the corner, hand on your holster, you come up on the guy yelling about, but don't see the axe concealed at his side. You also don't see your partner sneaking up on him around the opposite corner.
Now, officer, here's where your decision making prowess comes in.
A. Keep your gun in the holster, speak calmly to the obviously neurotic man and see what the problem is?
B. Pull out your gun and light 'em up?
C. Pull out your gun and then firmly instruct the man to put his hands in the air?
Think about it - but not for too long because in about 2 seconds the guy is going to wield his axe straight into your chest.
If you choose A, you put your life in danger as you are unprepared to subdue your assailant. However, if you choose B, you risk missing a shot and hitting your partner who is now in your line of fire standing behind the guy. And if your partner chooses B and misses, you could get shot too. In this particular instance, C is the best choice: you are prepared to shoot which gives you that extra second to observe your partner's location and move them out of your line of fire. Then you can light him up.
On paper, this all may seem obvious. But facing these decisions in the real world, when you have a split second to react, is much more stressful and confusing. And this is exactly what our police officers have to deal with – walking into unpredictable situations that can turn life threatening in an instant.
Thursday's Citizen Police Academy class was centered on this theme. We had the opportunity to try out the same training scenarios the officers use to hone in on decision-making skills.
In a way, it's like a video game. A computer projects a scenario on a floor to ceiling screen and you, the officer in training, hold a fake gun and walk into a situation where you have mere seconds to decide what actions to take. Some participants had to hunt down a school shooter without hitting kids running through the halls, another had to calm down a drunk, suicidal man with a gun at his side. In each scene, we had to decide if it was appropriate to keep the gun in the holster and talk it out, or if we should pull out our gun and shoot. Sometimes, the scenario required us to flip from one action to the next in a matter of milliseconds.
While school shootings and domestic disturbances are not typical in Burr Ridge, our officers do walk into the unknown on a daily basis.
Sgt. Joe Farrar brought up an interesting fact: more officers are killed during routine traffic stops than in any other scenario. According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, in the first half of 2010, 42 police officers were killed during traffic-related incidences, compared to 31 fatalities caused by firearms. Traffic-related deaths among police officers are up 35 percent from last year.
Farrar said that during traffic stops, officers have the disadvantage – the driver always sees the officer approaching the vehicle and the officer has no idea what state of mind the driver is in, or what weapon they could be hiding.
I've been pulled over, let's say once, for speeding and I was shaking like a leaf watching the officer walk up to my car. He shined a light in my face and my first reaction to their hard, somewhat unfriendly, demeanor was: "Why do they have to be so mean?" I get it now. They don't know me or my intentions and most of all, they're trying to protect themselves from a potentially deadly situation.
Next week we'll get a better understanding of traffic enforcement when we do a mock DUI pull-over.