Simulator offers hands-on decision-making training
Scott Willadsen, a former deputy at the Union County Sheriff's Office, has been teaching new officers about use of force at Oregon's Department of Public Safety Standards and Training in Salem for the last 10 years.
One of the elements Willadsen uses in his instruction is the simulator, a high-tech, video game-style program that displays actors in situations officers respond to regularly. After an officer steps up to the plate, it's a "choose your own adventure" style program that allows Willadsen to choose on a computer screen how the suspect will react — whether a suspect will give up, assault the officer or run away, to name a few. Often, Willadsen choices are based on how the officer communicates with the simulation on the video screen.
For instance, a man is in the driver's seat of a vehicle and has been involved in a domestic violence incident. The officer in the room can communicate with the man and tell him to show his hands and step out of the vehicle with no weapons. But one of Willadsen's options is for the man to step out of the car with a gun. An officer can choose from his tool belt a laser-pointed handgun, taser or pepper spray to use on the man.
The man eventually shoots at the officer, and if the officer hasn't fired at him first, the simulation ends.
"The screen picks up whether or not they were good hits on the suspect, if that was the appropriate thing to do, and the suspect may or may not fall down depending on the situation," Willadsen said. "We also want the students to interact with the scenario, we want them to talk to the screen, even though it's a computer screen that's preprogrammed, so they can just do the best they can.
The students are then graded on if their overall actions were legal, on skills and tactics including how they draw and hold a gun, and on their communication.
All of the teachings are founded in the "objective reasonable standard," Willadsen explained, which comes from the 1989 Supreme Court case Graham v. Connor. The standard, he said, is a basic formula which has six components, including:
• What is the severity of the crime and why am I here?
• Is this person an immediate threat to the officer or other people?
• Is the subject resisting lawful detention or arrest?
• Is this person attempting to evade police by flight?
• Is this situation tense, uncertain or rapidly evolving?
• What's the totality of the circumstances here?
Posters with these components listed hang throughout the academy for officers to memorize.