Last Saturday as part of the Writers’ Police Academy, I took part in FATS training — that’s a Fire Arms Training Simulator. At first I thought it would be like one of those FBI training sessions where we’d actually have to run around a room and chase suspects, with innocent civilians popping up at various times. It turned out that it took place in a classroom with a huge screen at one end, and an officer controlling the video on a computer.

The videos below weren’t filmed at the Writers Police Academy I attended, but they’ll give you an idea of what I and other participants faced. The second one gives you a quick shot of one of the actual scenarios I faced–a hostage situation taking place in a school.

The week before, we’d been sent instructions on the “Use of Force” that instructed us to use direct verbal commands to get control of a situation. The sheets said it’s better to use an alpha command such as “Stop!” and “Drop the weapon” instead of a beta command such as television actor’s favourite, “Freeze!” or “Give it up!” Now I’m a mom, and I’m used to telling my kids no, but it’s a totally different matter to be faced with a guy who may or may not have a weapon who is willing to kill you to escape. Was it ever tough trying to come up with the right thing to say when standing up there.

We got to sit in on the session before our scheduled time (thank heavens! it made me a lot less nervous in a way.) There were various scenarios you could be faced with, and each team got different ones than the last team. You might be standing guard at an airport when someone gets agitated about being searched and pulls a hostage to them, with a knife at her throat. Or you may be called to a workplace environment where two co-workers have been involved in an altercation. (Hint, watch out if one reaches into a drawer.) You might be called to a mall where someone is dressed in a white jumpsuit like the pesticide people use — he’s spraying shoppers with something that’s making them sick. (That’s when I learned that if I’d actually voiced the thought that a hazmat suit might be nice, one would have been provided with the click of a button. But I didn’t say it, so yup, I died.) There were hostage situations, and domestic disputes as well.

We used real guns but they didn’t use real bullets. Thank heavens. While I did shoot a few guns when I visited a friend in Texas a few years back, I needed their instruction again. (It was also slightly weird to listen to many of the civilian participants compare the guns they carried or used at home, and some of the incidents when they’d had to use them, or felt they should have, all in a casual conversation over lunch. Talk about a mild culture shock.)

In one scenario I watched, the participants were breaching a home that had hostages–the first suspect immediately surrendered, but a second one emerged from a door armed & actively shooting. The participants shot him at least six times before he finally fell to the floor. When the question was raised about the necessity of the number of shots fired, the instructors replayed the scenario and pointed out only three seconds had passed from the first shot to the last.

Our instructors talked about how it takes three quarters of a second to process what’s going on–if a subject moves, you’re likely to be aiming for where they were rather than where they are so your shot might miss them. (ugh, going on memory here, so I hope I’m getting them right.) So they’d already shot him before their brain registered that he was on the floor. And even then he still held the gun so could still have posed a threat.

By the way, you have to aim for center mass, those shots aimed at a suspect’s hand or leg are trick shots only good for television. Or for snipers–who don’t aim for hands or legs; they aim for the T-box (the eyes and nose) in order to drop the suspect so they don’t have time to get off a shot and endanger their victim.

I tried to give commands but found myself struggling to come up with something to say while my partner was silent but deadly with her weapon. I noticed that I was more likely to shoot in the first scenarios than I was the subsequent scenarios. I was struggling with trying to think of what I should be saying to control the situation or questioning myself when I needed to make decisions in a split second. Usually a split second I wouldn’t have in real life. Obviously my partner and I both needed a heck of a lot more training sessions to work on our verbal skills, and the ability to think on our feet.

It was the last situation I faced that stuck with me. We were on a ride along with another police officer who recognized someone who had a warrant out for them. He pulled over the truck, the driver climbed out and the two of them talked at the side of the road, the officer informing the driver that he was going to have to take him in. The suspect asked the other officer to let him take his eleven year old daughter home and then he’d come quietly. When the officer declined and had the guy turn around in preparation to handcuff him, I expected the suspect to reach beneath his shirt for a gun. He didn’t. The truck’s passenger door opened, the passenger climbed out and aimed a shotgun at me. I had my weapon aimed at the passenger then realized she was only a kid, and remembered the dad had said she was only eleven. She was so little, with pretty, long blond hair. She looked so innocent. Even with that shotgun’s barrel aimed at me.

I should have said something. I didn’t. I knew I should fire, but I couldn’t. I was struggling with how I could live with myself if I’d killed her. In the replay, you could see the track of my weapon as I lifted my weapon skyward as I struggled with my decision.

She fired.

I didn’t.

My partner fired a round dead center in the girl’s chest. Our instructors agreed that the girl would have died from the wound. But I would have been dead too. Gizmo Guy and the boys would have had to answer a knock at the door, or answered a phone call, telling them I’d never come home again. There’s no way I could be a police officer. I met some fantastic examples this weekend — men and women who have to make that decision on a daily basis. They have my utmost respect.

What would you have done? Could you have pulled that trigger?

I couldn’t do it. Could you?
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3 thoughts on “I couldn’t do it. Could you?

  • September 29, 2011 at 10:53 am

    Oh, boy, did you bring it all back. I had two partners in my scenario. One woman had done it before (and she made one shot the instructor had never seen ‘anyone’ ‘ever’ make successfully before)and the other woman owned a gun and was the worst shot I’ve ever seen (boy did she make them dance!). And as for culture shock–OMG! I had to drag my chin off the ground a few times. Did you sweat ? lol. I was dripping.

    By the end of the scenario I’d have shot the little girl. Probably because I was still cognizant of the fact it wasn’t real–it was a test. Now how that would relate to a real little girl? No clue.
    FATS was an incredible demonstration of the complexity of being a police officer.

  • September 29, 2011 at 11:20 am

    Wow, what an amazing workshop. I’m not sure I could do any of those scenarios without killing a lot of people in the process–hair-trigger finger, unfortunately. 8 (

    Makes you really think about these situations and what our police and armed forces train for.

  • October 2, 2011 at 11:41 am

    I’m SO glad you posted this. What an awesome experience to then translate to your work. New insights, emotions, ideas. I’ll bet you’re thrilled you got to experience it.

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