Imagine you’re a police officer. You’ve been called out to a possible workplace shooter at a warehouse.
You enter and find a man who claims to be an employee. He tells you there’s no problem and you can leave.
Following your training, your gun is out. You point it at the man, and tell him to raise his hands and come out from behind a work bench.
He says he’s not doing anything wrong and you should leave.
You issue the command again and he ignores you, repeating himself.
Then, suddenly, he reaches down, picks up something shiny and metallic, and points it at you.
Quick: What do you do?
You’d be right if the shiny metallic object was a gun. But you’d be tragically wrong if it turned out to be a staple gun wielded by a guy who thinks it’s a good joke.
Those are two possibilities presented by a police training simulator used by the North Augusta Department of Public Safety for the past month.
The simulator, provided by the South Carolina Insurance Risk Fund, makes the rounds of cities in South Carolina. Before it moved to its next destination, North Augusta City Administrator Todd Glover had it brought to the Municipal Center, and invited elected officials, city employees and journalists to test themselves in situations officers face every day.
“It gets your heart working,” said Glover. “These are decisions most people would not want to make.”
So did Mayor Bob Pettit, who went through three scenarios, getting the bad guy twice, but getting shot once himself.
“You’re pretty darn sure that you’re going to die,” he said of all three tries.
Here’s another scenario: You’re dispatched to handle a call about a couple arguing over custody of a child in a parking lot.
You arrive to find them standing outside a car, shouting at each other. You try to get them to calm down, but they won’t. If you have sharp eyes, you notice a telltale bulge in the wife’s waistband. If you’re like most people, you don’t catch it.
But you can’t miss it when she pulls it and points it at her husband, while she’s still holding the baby.
In theory, you could shoot her to save his life, according to Lt. Junior Johnson of the NADPS, who ran the videos and critiqued the participants.
But she’s holding the baby. What if you miss and hit the child? Some did.
The scenario can end two ways: with the wife finally putting down the gun, or with her shooting her husband. But, just like in real life, participants don’t know that.
Whatever happens, the officer’s actions are sure to be put under a microscope after it’s over. It can feel like a no-win situation.
Real officers think about three things in such situations: Ability, opportunity and jeopardy, Johnson said. If a person with a gun has all three, it might be time to shoot. But it’s still a judgment call that must be made in seconds.
Practicing with the simulator can help officers make the right judgment in real life, Johnson said.
Among the best simulator participants last week was City Councilman David McGhee, who demonstrated better-than-average marksmanship and kept his cool through several nail-biting scenarios.
But even he shot the guy with the staple gun.
Reach James Folker at (706) 823-3338 or firstname.lastname@example.org.