The Public & Use of Force
Educating the public on the realities of force encounters pays dividendsBy Dave Grossi | Aug 7, 2017
A buddy sent me a recent news story on some innovative public relations work being done by the Clark County (Ohio) Sheriff’s Office in Springfield during the week ending July 28. During their recent County Fair, the CCSO decided to set up a firearms training simulator in an annex building in order to permit interested patrons to experience the dynamics of police shootings.
The idea was the brain child of Clark County Sheriff Deborah Burchett. She agreed to make the simulator available to the public to give them a better understanding of how police confrontations really happen. It was open to anyone over 18 years old and was also contingent on them signing a waiver. In addition, all participants had to agree to a pat-down frisk for live firearms before entering the training environment. From all accounts it was a great success.
The simulator used modified laser-light weapons that measured reaction time as well as accuracy, and the scenarios included traffic stops and domestic calls, and subjects armed with edged weapons as well as unarmed, non-threatening subjects.
When I read the story, my mind flashed back to similar program I ran years ago for our local ADAs in upstate N.Y. after an officer-involved shooting, and another Judgmental Shooting experience I conducted in US District Court to educate a jury on the intricacies of deadly force encounters.
When I was the rangemaster at my PD, I had to testify at the grand jury hearing convened to determine the propriety of one of our officers use of force and to articulate how his training factored into the shooting. After that experience it became quite apparent that very few of our local ADAs had any understanding of the dynamics involved in police use of force. After consulting with my boss, I asked our range staff to set up our indoor range for a judgmental shooting program using both volumes of the Calibre Press Video “Deadly Force Decisions” and scheduled our cadre of prosecutors on a volunteer basis for a series of “shoot, don’t shoot” sessions.
All but two ADAs agreed to undergo the training.
The response was very revealing. Our local ADAs reacted as most untrained citizens would. Many shot in clear “no shoot” situations. Several didn’t react at all and would have been casualties of their under reaction had the incidents occurred in real life. Accuracy wasn’t even close to an academy passing grade. Their comments afterwards echoed many of those reported by the Clark County Fair participants: “true to life,” “I had to react in a minute,” “it was stressful,” and, most commonly, “there wasn’t much time to think.”
Prior to my retirement, we had two other officer-involved shootings. Per protocol, both shootings were investigated by the DAs Office with the facts being presented to the grand jury. Both matters were presented by ADAs who underwent the training program. Their knowledge of not only proper police terminology, response tactics, perception time, and the speed with which armed confrontations occur made the whole legal experience much smoother for the officers. This time there was no “pulling out your gun” or “running up on the suspect.” Instead, they used terms like “unholstered your weapon” and “approached the subject” when discussing the situation.
Years later, I had occasion to testify in U.S. District Court in Tennessee in a civil case resulting from an officer-involved shooting. When the testimony turned to how officers are trained to react in life-or-death encounters, I managed to convince the agency’s rangemaster, a trainer I knew well, to bring their department’s FATS simulator to court and set it up during the lunch break. I had made the request to assist the jury in understanding how fast the decision-making process was for the two officers when they were confronted by the armed suspect. While I was unable to poll the jury on how the one scenario they viewed (it mirrored the actual shooting) was received by them, it obviously worked as they came back in near record time clearing both officers.
One of the Clark County Fair participants commented to the press that he now has “a new appreciation for what officers go through.” Our local ADAs left with that same mindset. Keeping in mind that grand juries are made up of private citizens, it might be a good practice for other PDs and SOs to consider setting up similar programs for not only their local prosecutors but private citizens, too.
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Springfield News-Sun, Springfield, Ohio, July 25, 2017