Virtual simulator offers insight into law enforcement’s decisions to use deadly force


NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — We already know police have a difficult job, but sometimes it’s those split-second decisions that can determine life and death.

And we don’t have the opportunity to be inside an officer’s head when that time comes, but on Tuesday those decisions were simulated through the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund’s use-of-force simulator. 

They came to town and invited local political and community leaders to run through the simulator. 

The established law through the United States Supreme Court is a police officer can use deadly force when he or she has a “reasonable” belief the suspect poses an imminent danger of death or serious injury to the officer or another person.  That is at the foundation of deadly force defined. 

The simulator takes on different scenarios which can be changed by the program operator.  A man named Aaron is seen walking with a gun to his head, and walking away from the officer, who doesn’t shoot.  Aaron ends up killing three people inside.

We’re under the instruction of Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund’s, Bryan Patterson who took 10 On Your Side through different scenarios. 

A man possibly involved in a robbery is walking along a street. The simulator has the police car pull up to him.  He starts cursing at the officer.  He grabs something from the back of his pants.

Is it a gun? 

You’ve got to think quick. 

One of the participants didn’t, and it was a gun, and the suspect fired off quick shots. 

Later that same scene changed, and the man pulled out a cell phone, “Hold on a second.  I told you not to take anything out of your pocket or clothes.  I want you to put down your phone.” 

He only had a phone, luckily no shots were fired. 

Patterson says, “That was good … we took you right to the edge.” 

I was thinking what the future might hold for me had I shot the man dead, and he didn’t have a gun.

What I would go through in the court of public opinion, and the media, and the court, and the police department reviews.   

I found myself shaking from that simulated exercise. Imagine what law enforcement goes through. 

The next scenario, several juveniles were dressed in camouflage, and were possibly drinking alcohol.  I arrive on scene and see orange tips on guns.  I am thinking the guns are fake, indicated by orange tips, but I don’t see the hidden gun in the man’s front pocket, who is approaching from behind a tree. 

He shot 8 times and I’m probably dead.  I told Patterson, “I didn’t even get it out of the holster.”  Patterson correctly reminded me, “There’s a wall over here.  Even if you are not thinking about pulling the weapon,  you can move for cover from the wall, which is safety.”

I didn’t notice the real gun in the shooter’s front pocket.  I did notice it when we re-ran the scenario.  I was sure to shoot him dead, and even moved up on him to shoot again.

Patterson thought I should hold position behind the wall, “Stay back, Andy, keep backing up … he’s a wounded animal.  If he had come up he could have shot again.”

The next call is for a mentally ill homeless man in a park. A man and a young girl are in the park.  As the scene starts playing I tell them both to back up.  I then say to the man, “don’t you sick that dog on me. I will shoot him, and I’ll shoot you too.” 

The man pulls out a machete and could release the dog. He doesn’t. He slams the machete into the ground.  I was correct not to shoot. 

The next time the scenario plays they change what the man does.  This time he lets loose the dog.    The next participant is slow to fire and fails to kill the charging dog. Patterson says, “That dog is now  biting your legs.”

But here’s the essential take away from this exercise I mentioned to those gathered, “Can you imagine what officers are like in the line of duty?  They’ve been running for three minutes, out of breath, trying to chase someone, and on top of that they have to make these second decisions. I think that’s the point.  You need to understand where the officer is coming from, and what they are dealing with, and you need to do what the officer tells you to do.”

Please consider these national statistics: Every year about 60,000 law enforcement officers are assaulted, and 20,000 of them need treatment in a hospital.

Last year in the United States, 66 officers were killed while trying to arrest someone.

Our thanks to the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund for inviting 10 On Your Side to participate. 

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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