In the community affairs room of the 61st Precinct on Wednesday night, three officers in tan-colored uniforms set up a big screen, a projector, and a tabletop full of modified weapons to have community members go through situations that police officers experience every day.
These officers aren’t the typical patrolmen you’d see on the street. They are firearms instructors in the NYPD Firearms and Tactics division and they are responsible for training new NYPD recruits in a 15-day training period, and re-evaluating current officers every two years.
Officer Malone lead the demonstration for folks to get a taste of the training in the simulation portion of the process. They way the simulator works is that a situation unfolds on the screen, which interacts with the weapons, and the trainees must make split-second decisions based on what they see on the screen, and then they are evaluated on what they did.
“We call it stress inoculation. We want to put them in the safety and security of a classroom and make them make a real-life decision. If they make a mistake, there is no real-world consequences,” said Malone. “If they make a poor decision, we can address it in the classroom to make sure they don’t make it in real life.”
Trainees are strapped with a Glock 9mm handgun, a baton, a taser, and pepper spray — all of which can be used to defuse the situations that are presented.
Normally, new recruits have to run half a mile and do jumping jacks to get their heart rate up before they are put into these situations in order to replicate the real-life stress that would come with these dangerous encounters. Malone spared us the exercise and let us jump right into the field.
The reason this simulator was offered to civilians on Wednesday was to help people understand how difficult it is for police officers to make the right decision in a deadly four-second encounter.
The average police involved shooting lasts four and a half seconds, according to Malone. Both parties in the shooting are within 21 feet of each other 90 percent of the time, with 75 percent of those encounters happening within 10 feet.
“Being a cop is not like it is in the movies, believe me,” said Malone.
In the United States, a police officer is killed every three days, according to Malone. However, that statistic isn’t limited to shootings. Police are often hit by cars when they are standing next to a car they pulled over on the street.
“My wife lends me to the NYPD for eight hours a day, sometimes more, and she wants me back the same way she gave me, which I think is fair,” said Malone. “One of the misconceptions out the is that officers are out there looking for a fight but that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s actually the last thing I want just like its the last thing you want.”
He explained that because of the nature of the job, police cannot walk away from a situation. It is their duty to deal with it and that sometimes requires the use of force. That is why they train officers on how to use force for different scenarios.
The first situation that was run through was a response call regarding an emotionally distressed person sitting in a public courtyard, talking to a stuffed Elmo doll. The two men who took part in the exercise try talking to the man to calm him down.
One of them tried to talk to him about the doll when he doesn’t respond, which Malone said was a good tactic. But then the distressed man pulls out a knife and puts it to the doll, which he’s holding against his chest — putting himself at risk of hurting himself.
At this point, one “officer” has his gun out and the other has the taser out, which Malone said was smart in case the man plunged forward or started swinging the knife.
After a while of no progress or action, Malone stops the drill to give the lesson. He said to let the guy pet the doll as long as he wants — it buys time for the ambulance and backup if it’s necessary. But once the knife is out, the game has changed.
You can’t let him hurt himself or others, but you can’t hurt him to stop that. The firearm is ruled out as the choice way to defuse the situation because it would hurt him more than the knife would. The baton isn’t a good choice because it would mean having to approach the man, putting yourself at risk of getting slashed. Therefore the taser and the pepper spray are the only options left.
He ran the demo again and had the “officer” use the taser on the man. He fell over and dropped the knife, successfully keeping everyone safe.
I took part in the second situation. We got a call about shots fired inside of a store. When we got there we heard more gunshots. We entered the store to find one person bleeding on the ground, and another taking cover with his hands up and pointing to the back of the store.
In the back, we found another person bleeding on the floor. A split-second later the shooter came out from behind a corner and started shooting at us. We weren’t ready and subsequently died.
Malone was kind enough to let us try again and this time we were ready for the shooter. When he came around, I shot him in the hip and he fell to the ground behind a counter. A second later he crawled out from behind the counter to shoot at us again. This time I got him in the chest, killing him.
After the whole ordeal was through, Malone asked us how many shots we fired — like a lawyer cross-examining an officer in court. Even though it was right after it happened, neither of us could recall the number of shots. He asked us to say how many people were in the store and the condition they were in. We missed one person.
The lesson learned from that situation was how hard it is to recall the way the events played out despite having just gone through it — police are asked to do this in court weeks, months, sometimes years after an incident like that.
Another enlightening detail was how many shots were fired in such a short amount of time. Altogether, seven shots were fired over five seconds. However, the shooter was behind the counter for four of those seconds, meaning all of the shots were fired in one second.
The next situation was a call for a domestic violence issue. Police arrived at the house and approached the front door when they heard a woman scream. They looked through the front window to find a man, clearly holding something, towering over a woman on the couch. The man noticed the police and turned around slowly to reveal the fact that he was holding a huge rifle.
The “officers” yelled at the man to drop the gun — he doesn’t. He started to point the gun at them, forcing the men to shoot at him.
According to Malone, they shot him too late. He said that once they told him to drop the gun and he didn’t, they were in the right to fire shots.
“The action is always faster than the reaction,” he said. “He would win every time.”
In the next scenario, an emotionally distressed homeless woman was rummaging through the trash of a commercial building.
Police approached her and asked her to calm down and show her hands. She stood up, turned around, and brandished a blade of some sort. One of the officers quickly pulled out his taser and shot it at her, which made her fall and drop the blade.
Malone said they did everything right in the way they handled it and gave a scale for use of force. He said to always be a step above the threat that is presented. If they’re using their hands or feet, use the baton or pepper spray; if they have a knife, use the taser. This scale doesn’t work if they have a lethal weapon like a gun because you can only match it.
In the final situation, police were called to respond to a possible burglary. The alarm at a warehouse went off and the door was forced open. They went inside to see what was going on.
They found a guy claiming that he works there but he was holding his hand behind a box. Police repeatedly told him to show his hands, but he wouldn’t. The “officer” shot him the leg, making him fall over. Malone said he shot a bit early but was reasonable in not waiting for him to possibly reveal a weapon.
He ran the demo again to show what he was holding behind the box. He pulled out a staple gun and comically started shooting staples at the officers.
Malone said to not wait for the “glint of steel” to shoot. He referred back to the lesson of the action being faster than the reaction. He said shooting the man in that situation was justifiable.
“You don’t have to be right, you have to be reasonable,” Malone said. “It that situation, it could have been him or you.”
He also noted that people often commit suicide by provoking the police into thinking they have a gun by pulling an object out and pointing it at them, hoping for the police to kill them. It’s not the police’s responsibility to differentiate between actual threats and those who are acting. They must be reasonable, not right.
It was an enlightening night in which people realized what the police go through on a day-to-day basis. I’d also be lying if I said it wasn’t a little fun to play cops and robbers like I was a kid again.