I was dead before I even reached for my gun. And so was my partner.
It was a sobering moment Tuesday night at Day 7 of the Citizen's Police Academy as I stepped up as the first volunteer in a simulated shooting exercise.
After just having watched several episodes of the TV show "Justified," featuring rogue U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, I made the valiant decision to go first.
Lawrence police Capt. Bill Corey directed the simulation, and handed me a fake handgun while he set up the scenario on a large computer screen. There would be a police vehicle stop, I was told, and I would be the backup officer. On the screen, my partner approached a car, and a woman was asked to step out of the vehicle.
As I affected my best Raylen Givens swagger, I tried to think how Raylen would act. He'd be aggressive, but a perfect shot, I figured, ready to save the day. Would he even bother to take up a proper shooting stance, or just fling from the hip? Would he try to verbally de-escalate the situation, or just go for the gun?
None of that mattered. In this scenario, my partner and I were dead faster than I could form answers to those questions.
See, all that thinking, along with a second passenger who exited the vehicle, distracted me long enough for the woman to pull a gun and shoot both me and my partner. I didn't even have time to raise my weapon.
And that was the point. In the heat of the moment, decision-making is compromised. It's not even really decision-making as much as it is reacting.
Thankfully, for the citizens of Lawrence, I'm writing about this and not out there on the streets reacting.
But here's a video from fellow academy member J. Taylor, who kept his eye on the hands of a suspect reaching for a second weapon during an exercise:
And here's me on my second and more successful try with the simulator:
Use of force
With the story of a disgruntled and homicidal ex-police officer who's been shooting officers in California dominating national headlines, it was apt that Day 7 of the Citizen's Academy centered on officer use of force.
We were treated Tuesday to a frank discussion about the challenges officer face when deciding to use force.
Fortunately, in Lawrence I don't remember an instance (I've been here since 2008), where an officer has had to fire a weapon.
But police officers are trained to do so, Corey told us, equipped with a Critical Incident Team, or the Lawrence version of a SWAT team.
More likely, though, is an officer having to wrestle down a suspect, or pull a Taser.
Taser usage has become more common in the country during the past few years, and many of LPD officers are equipped with the yellow guns.
The reality is that the guns are pulled and not used much more often than used. It reminded me of a story we did a few years back about Tasers.
I'll never forget the quote from the officer we interviewed for the story: "Oh yeah, they (criminals) know the yellow gun."
According to that article, in the two and a half years since 2008, when the LPD got its first round of Tasers, officers used the yellow gun just 17 times in more than 300,000 police calls.
It just reinforced what the officers told us all night: It's much easier to sweet talk a suspect than use force.
That was clear to us a few weeks back in class when we watched a video of three suspects assaulting LPD officer John Evinger during a traffic stop in 2011. The video — which I don't have to share here — showed how quickly it can happen, and how dangerous the job is. Because of injuries to his eye, Evinger was forced to retire.