Every time a copy shoots and kills a Black person, the community’s mistrust of police in general diminishes further and further. But Officer D. L. Watson wanted to help members of the Black community better understand the decision-making challenges officers often undergo in some of these deadly-force altercations.
Watson, co-director of the Juvenile Intervention Unit of the Wichita Police Department (WPD) invited the Wichita NAACP and me to take part in the simulation training officers go through. The high-tech devise simulates real field situations with the simulation able to interact based on the officers – in this case my – conversation and commands.
“I realized in the meetings that I was going to with the NAACP that they didn’t understand the decision-making process behind these deadly force situations, and I don’t blame them for not understanding. So, it’s my job to help them understand as much as possible,” said Officer Watson, who is also a board member of the Wichita Branch NAACP.
I participated in two field simulations. During my first simulation, I stepped into the shoes of a police officer responding to a call from a bartender who needed a man removed from the bar for harassing people. When I arrived, the suspect became agitated by my presence and reached for a gun on his waist, and almost a second later, my weapon was drawn and pointed at the suspect, pleading for him to drop the gun.
The man, clearly heavily intoxicated, began to brandish his weapon before turning to aim at me. My immediate reaction was to shoot, which resulted in me firing three rounds, two of them lethal. The entire simulation lasted just 15 seconds, which indicates many of these altercations don’t allow for a lot of “think” time.
In my second simulation, I responded to a suspicious parked car in a public parking lot. My partner approached the vehicle while I stayed by the squad car. Following her command, he got out of the car and walked a few feet back towards the control vehicle. The suspect was mentally unstable and pulled a knife out, claiming that his life was meaningless. I attempted to reason with him and explained he was important, but unfortunately, he began to charge at me, which prompted me to fire multiple rounds at the suspect.
Shawn Tyndell, another participant, took a different approach in his simulation. He responded to a call regarding a man sitting on a park bench with a knife in his hand. Unlike me, Tyndell waited until the suspect approached him to draw his weapon, and unfortunately Tyndell’s gun was stuck in the holster and had it not been a simulation, it would have cost him his life.
“The training scenarios made the potential challenges police officers face day to day very apparent. It challenged me to thrust myself into real situations and bring to the forefront the lightning quick decision-making police officers must have,” said Tyndell, Senior Category Manager at Flint Hills Resources.
In my opinion, The most valuable part of the simulation was the debrief from Officer Bill Cook, the assistant range master. He walked us through the decision-making process from an officer’s perspective, which highlighted the benefits of the simulator as a training tool and helped me better understand what an officer would have done in each particular situation.
The training tested the timing of my decision-making in high-stress cases. Although it was a simulation, the incidents are based on actual life decisions officers have to make between de-escalation, use of force, or deadly force. Even though the stimulator was a controlled environment, I still had to deal with my nerves, which would have ultimately affected my performance if I had been in a real-life encounter.
Both of my simulations ended with me using deadly force due to uncooperative suspects who both attempted to harm me. At that moment, my only concern was my survival, not the number of shots I took or where I aimed. In reality, what some citizens see as an abuse of power or even intentional murder, is sometimes the result of physiology, especially reaction time.
“When you have that adrenaline dump, your nervous system is activated, and your fine motor skills diminish, and things aren’t what people normally perceive that they are because things happen so fast and we have to process within one to three seconds,” said Officer Watson.
In an effort to aid officers in their decision-making process, the WPD wants to instill a wellness program where officers use different breathing techniques to reset their nervous system, which processes stress. It can help build resilience and enhance the officer’s performance in, especially in situation like these.
Officer Watson believes having groups and organizations, particularly ones from Black and Brown communities, participate in the simulation training will increase the communities understanding of how police react. If your organization wants to schedule simulation training, contact Officer Watson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (316)-803-2300.