The death of Kendrec McDade – the unarmed 19-year-old who was fatally shot by Pasadena Police officers responding to an armed robbery call – is a reminder of the terrible events that can unfold when civilians encounter police. The death of Kenyon Youngstrom – the California Highway Patrol officer who was fatally shot by a motorist during a routine traffic stop in Northern California – is a reminder of the terrible events that can unfold when police encounter civilians. Going through the Pasadena Police Department's Force Simulator workshop widened my perspective on both types of tragedy.
The Force Simulator is a video-based training system used to test police officers' responses to potentially deadly scenarios. Armed with real weapons modified to fire lasers that register on a computer, the trainee faces re-enactments of actual police encounters projected on a floor-to-ceiling screen. The computer determines whether the actor in the video is compliant or defiant. The trainee must evaluate the circumstances and determine quickly (sometimes in seconds or tenths of seconds) whether some kind of force – verbal commands, pepper spray, Taser or firearms – is appropriate.
I got killed in my first simulation and I killed someone else in the second. I felt terrible after both experiences.
Scenario number one ended with me getting shot multiple times by a teenager who charged at me, gun blazing, from behind a trash bin. I was seated in a chair, imitating a police officer doing paperwork in his patrol car. The video clearly showed the kid dashing behind the dumpster. But, not wanting to profile him as a threat, I waited to see what he would do. I did not put my hand on my holstered gun. The young man appeared without warning and aimed his pistol in the blink of an eye. I lost count of the shots around five.
The sound of a woman screaming heightened my emotions in the second simulation. As the video walked me up to the window of a suburban house, I saw a man with his back to me standing over a cringing woman on a couch. This time I drew my gun. As he turned, I saw a rifle in the man's hands. I opened fire and didn't stop firing until the man went down.
The Force Simulator provided me a glimpse into the complex and potentially deadly situations that police face every day. It also enhanced my appreciation for the respect, cool-headedness, evaluative skills and readiness with which the vast majority of cops – in Pasadena and elsewhere – meet those situations.
It was comforting to learn that less than 1% of arrests by Pasadena Police officers results in the use of force. Also encouraging is the fact that the PPD reviews all uses of force, whether or not there has been a public complaint.
The alleged criminal behavior by Pasadena police detective Keith Gomez and officer Kevin Okamoto does not reflect a department-wide culture. And the response by Pasadena police leadership to the Kendrec McDade shooting (calling for multiple external investigations and holding public information meetings) reflects the department's commitment to professionalism and transparency.
Making the Force Simulator seminar available to the public is another way the Pasadena Police Department is reaching out to the community. I encourage all concerned citizens and activists to avail themselves of this informative and eye-opening program.
Thanks for listening. I'm Cameron Turner and that's my two cents.
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