Shooting simulator shows how quickly officers have to react

Created: 11/08/2013 5:47 PM
By: Stuart Dyson, KOB Eyewitness News 4

Recent police shootings have many New Mexicans wondering exactly how and when do officers make the decision to haul out the gun and pull the trigger. We sent Stuart Dyson to get a personal lesson at the Albuquerque Police Academy in just how fast those sometimes deadly decisions must be made. His first move was to shoot a cop.

Settle down. It was a pellet gun shootout with propane-powered pistols and plastic BBs. Dyson and veteran officer Ray DeFrates wore protective masks.  The two men faced off about ten or twelve feet apart with Dyson aiming his gun at the officer’s torso and DeFrates holding his gun down at his right side, somewhat like accused carjacker Joaquin Ortega did before an officer shot him on Oct. 28. DeFrates raised his gun and fired. Dyson responded quickly, but not quick enough. A second attempt ended the same way.

“We can sit and talk like this all day long and I can give you numbers and reactionary times from other officers and studies,” said APD Commander Anthony Montano. “ It’s not until someone actually  is placed in that position that they can truly appreciate what an officer has to go through and what is going through their minds, and all the decisions that they have to make.”

New scenario : DeFrates held his gun pointed at his own head. Suicide? Maybe – maybe not. Once again the officer swung his pistol toward Dyson and fired a split second before Dyson could pull the trigger. A second and third time brought the same results.

Montano said a recent study shows it takes an average .38 seconds to point and fire from a gun held at the side – and .39 seconds in the suicide scenario. Average response time? .39 seconds and .40 seconds, respectively. Not enough, unless you’re ready and extremely well-trained.

“This was just like the old Bobby Fuller Four song,” Dyson said. “I fought the law and the law won!”

Next, weapons instructors took Dyson to the firearms training simulator for some interactive work on the big screen.  This time the reporter got an electronic/pneumatic version of an automatic pistol.  He attempted to play the role of a police officer. In scene one Dyson pulled over a suspected drunk driver who refused to stay in his car or take his hands out of his pockets – and then he made an announcement.”

“I got a gun and I got a permit for it,” the drunk snarled. Dyson began to order him to throw the gun down, but the drunk pointed it at Dyson and fired. Dyson returned fire quickly, but missed and the drunk fired a second time before Dyson could pull off a second shot for himself. The bad guy won.

“My heart is pounding and my pulse is racing,” Dyson said, waiting for the next scene.

Next he pulled over a guy on a motorcycle who got belligerent and then said he was getting his license out of his saddlebag. He fired first but Dyson shot him down.  In the next scene Dyson got killed when a gunman with a hostage let the hostage go, set his gun down, and kneeled on the floor, saying he was giving up. Dyson relaxed a little and the guy pulled out another handgun and shot him.

In the last scene the same drunk driver makes another appearance. This time he appeared to pull something out of his jacket pocket and Dyson promptly shot him three times.

Trouble is, the drunk didn’t have a gun the second time!

“I’m absolutely staggered,” Dyson said. “I can’t believe how fast cops have to make these decisions.”

“There’s a lot to process,” said Montano. “ It’s almost incomprehensible if you break it down, if you think about what a law enforcement officer has to go through, what’s  going through his or her mind, before they make that conscious decision to use deadly force.

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