LIHUE — This week, I faced a scenario I hope I will never face in real life — an attacker charging me with a weapon. I was holding a gun.
I had a few seconds to decide: Should I shoot?
While my life was in no way in danger, going through real-life scenarios at the Kauai Police Department made me realize how quickly a situation can escalate, and gave me a brief glimpse into the mind of a cop when faced with difficult situations.
“You have to observe and orient yourself to where you are. Then you have to decide what you’re going to do and act,” said Darryl Perry, KPD chief. “And that has to be done in a fraction of a second. I’m not sure the human mind is capable of doing that.”
On Wednesday, KPD invited TGI and other media outlets to its office for an orientation. During the day-long event, we were given the rundown of how the department works — from a briefing of the organizational chart and a station tour to a TASER and use of force demonstrations.
I opted out of being hit with a TASER, and when given the chance to participate in live scenarios, I’d like to say I jumped at the chance.
But I tossed the idea around for several hours before deciding that since I report on police officers, I might as well get an idea of what they go through on a regular basis.
So, after being suited up, complete with a body camera, and given briefing about how to deploy and handle a gun — two things I’ve never done before — I shot a few practice rounds of blanks before participating in a live-action scenario.
When it was my turn, I walked out into the training room. I was told to be ready, but no other details were given.
I was put through three different scenarios, all of which I did poorly.
For me, what hit home the most was stepping into an officer’s shoes, being faced with an aggressive suspect and having to decide whether to pull the trigger.
KPD officers learn how to handle situations by being trained to read body language and through repetitions, Perry said. He likened learning how to respond to a scene to learning how to play an instrument.
“At first, you’re a novice and you fumble through it. But as you practice, you begin to see cues you can respond to,” he said. “Just by looking at people’s body language and micro-expressions, you can assess how an individual may react.”
He said recruits are trained to recognize commonalities in ways people react to respond correctly to a situation.
But sometimes, in training, recruits fail to react, said Todd Tanaka, KPD lieutenant.
“Even regular, scenario-based training, sometimes we see failure to act on their part,” he said. “If I’m getting imminent danger signs, and all I have to do is pull the trigger, a lot of times in training, it doesn’t happen because the human aspect comes in.”
It’s not in the average police officer’s DNA for shooting someone to be easy, Tanaka said.
“It’s tough,” he said. “When the rubber hits the road, it’s up to that officer. Yes, we do all this training — range work, scenario work and video work — but when that flag rises, and it’s time to act, we’ll see.”
On Wednesday, I forgot the advice that was given to me. For me, the human aspect was too much, and I didn’t want to shoot the person in front of me.
I didn’t fire.
“The situation is dynamic, very fluid and stressful,” Perry said. “We have to do everything we can to give our officers not only the physical tools, but the mental capacity and tools to handle a situation like that.”