A time to kill? Clarksville Police emulate deadly force situations through simulator
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A dangerous situation and a quick reaction -- with life or death consequences.
It's something police need to be trained to deal with and Clarksville Police have a special simulator for learning to make better decisions when it comes to using deadly force.
It's training day. And Clarksville Police Officer Wayne Townsend just killed a domestic violence suspect.
"Sir, put the gun down, sir! Ma'am, step away," he shouts at a projector screen.
In the scene, a man stands next to a car with a woman nearby. As the man turns towards the woman and plunges his hand into his waistband behind his back, Officer Townsend fired shots.
In another scene, Cpl. Jason Tackett guns down a man who is seen running towards police with a weapon.
But in these cases, the bullets aren't real, the suspects are just actors and it's all going down behind closed doors at the Clarksville Police Department.
"Give me a narrative of what you think just happened here?" Cpl. Shane Bassett asks Officer Tackett. "What would you be doing here?"
Bassett is the firearms instructor for the Clarksville Police department and he takes the officers through the decisions they made in training.
"Drop the knife. Drop the knife, sir," Tackett orders. "Drop the knife or you're going to get tasered." It's another scene playing out on the projector screen. A man stands in a kitchen holding a large knife. He appears to have slashed his wrist with and now moves towards the screen and another officer on the video -- who is in the kitchen.
These simulations are part of the department's aggressive new approach to force training.
"I think it is some of the most important training that we can do now," Cpl. Bassett said. "This is as close to real life as we can get."
The training puts officers in situations in which they have to make split-second life and death decisions.
Cpl. Bassett says the training is crucial in light of recent fatal police shootings in Ferguson and other parts of the country.
"I definitely think that the system will save lives," said Bassett.
He says the goal is to help officers make the best decision when they only had a second to make one.
"When you get into serious situations, it is difficult to train for that," Bassett said.
Clarksville Police asked me to go through the training simulator to learn, first hand, what they go through.
"You're going to give loud verbal commands in clear English," Bassett explains. "Point the gun at him, tell him: 'show me your hands, do it now, show me your hands!"
At the first scene, a man with a knife rushes toward me. I give loud verbal commands, but I only have a moment to make my decision.
The suspect does not survive.
Police sent me into another scenario.
"You're being dispatched after hours, late -- in the middle of the night -- burglary alarm call," Bassett explains.
At a suspected warehouse burglary, I can't see one of the man's hands. It's hidden by boxes on a desk. I have to keep my gun trained on him and a flashlight pointed in his direction so I can see.
"Sir, I will shoot you if you don't shoe me your other hand," I say.
I use deadly force again.
But this time, the man who was threatening me is armed with only a staple gun.
"So at this point, you're under no obligation to wait on him so you're going to get the gun trained on him and then you told him that you would shoot him -- which is correct, you've got to tell them that," Bassett explains.
The final scenario gets even scarier.
Two children are playing with a gun on a city bus when one appears to accidentally shoot the other.
"Slowly place the gun on the ground," I tell the little girl in the video.
Cpl. Basset explains that using deadly force is still not the only option.
He pauses the video and walks over to the screen to show me what I should be looking for.
"Where is her trigger finger at?" He asks. "Her finger is off the trigger," he says, pointing to the gun in her hand as she holds it up.
"These are little things you need to pick up when you are doing this scenario," he says. "If her intentions were to shoot someone else, her finger would probably be in the guard. In this situation, her finger is outside the guard."
The girl eventually puts the gun down, but it's extremely stressful as the seconds agonizingly tick by until that happens.
Police admit there is stress and anxiety -- even in training.
"But this is where to sort out some of those nerves and to practice in a safe environment," Cpl. Takcett said after his training.
Unlike the majority of his fellow officers, Cpl. Tackett has been forced into a similar scenario.
In April of 2010, Tackett shot a man waving a gun at Gaskell Park in Clarksville.
Bassett said six officers responded to the call. "In that situation, we had time, we gave him every opportunity we could give him," said Bassett. "Deadly force is our very, very, very, very last option."
That's why every officer who wears a gun and badge for Clarksville will go through training -- and even some uncomfortable questions from Cpl. Bassett -- before they're allowed to patrol the streets.
"We do nitpick a lot, we try to go over specific details in there," Bassett said.
Clarksville police plan to share this training and technology with other local departments.
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