I joined other members of the media, including new Nooga.com reporter Matt Pulford, in aShoot! Don’t Shoot Media Competition hosted by theAEGIS Law Enforcement Foundation, which is an organization led by former Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce PresidentTom Edd Wilson.
The organization hadTi Trainingbringin simulators used to train law enforcement members.
The simulators put us in situations that law enforcement officers might encounter. We had police gear on-vests and belts with (fake) weapons, and we faced a large screen that we could interact with. It responded to our voices and weapons.
First, we practiced shooting targets that popped up. Then we got to real situations, like a traffic stop, a domestic violence situation and a call about a prowler.
In each scenario, we had to communicate with the person in front of us, manage our weapons, maintain presence of mind, communicate with dispatch and make judgments about how to proceed inambiguous circumstances.
Wilson said the goal of the event was twofold.
First, leaders wanted to give members of the media and area businesspeople a taste of what it’s like to be in these situations, “to understand the stress that is involved in a cop’s everyday life,” Wilson said.
The second goal is to bring at least one of the simulators to Hamilton County.
“To train on this, they’ve got to go to Knoxville or Nashville,” Wilson said. “[That’s] time and money.AEGIS wants to buy one of these.”
The versionAEGIS wants costs $65,000.
“We want to buy one and give it to all the police in the county,” Wilson said. “We’d set it up in a stationary place, and it would be available for training 24/7.”
For some background, I have only had one experience shooting a gun when I went skeet shooting with some friends a couple of years ago.
I do have some experience with law enforcement, though. I was a cops reporter for about two years at a newspaper outside of Knoxville and also did some crime reporting at the Times Free Press.
I’ve covered murder trials and been to homicide scenes, arson investigations and meth lab busts.
So even though my hands-on shooting experience was essentially nil, I thought I had some background that would make me somewhat comfortable in the situation.
I was wrong.
Apparently, not even all that listening to the police scanner helped me know how to properly talk via radio.
Although I did manage to communicate with dispatch and ask for backup in one situation, I also amused the deputies by saying “thank you” in what I can only imagine was a relatively sweet, girly voice.
I also pushed the radio button with the same hand I used to hold my gun, which means I was practically just waving the weapon all around-pointing it near my own head and at who knows what else.
The experience was enlightening, and I wish that everyone could try it.
Here’s what I learned.
“Demanding” doesn’t begin to cover it.
I never thought that being in law enforcement was easy, but simply learning how to draw a weapon was an intensely humbling experience.
Don’t even get me started on trying to hold a flashlight and gun at the same time while walking into a dark, abandoned building with no idea what could be inside.
I’ve never felt so uncoordinated and vulnerable.
My goal was to calmly but firmly talk to people, but in every situation we encountered, that was nearly impossible.
We encountered someone who didn’t speak English.We interacted with a man who had been arguing with his significant other for hours and was out-of-control angry. We came upon people who yelled at us and, in a couple of cases, eventually tried to kill us.
Using the simulator gave me a brief glimpse into what it might be like to have a job in which a routine traffic stop can turn into a shooting.
Saying that we understand that officers and deputies risk their lives every day and fully understanding that are two different things.
Training seems endlessly valuable.
People can be unpredictable. Guns can be dangerous.Suspects might be innocent or insane.
There’s no way to know what members of law enforcement will encounter.
These realities, combined with countless complex circumstances, make me want members of law enforcement to have as much training as possible.
What could be more important than having the most well-trained, educated, experienced people on the job when it literally involves life and death?
Perspective is important.
It was impossible to go through this experience without thinking about the recent mass shooting in Chattanooga and about all the others we’ve seen played out in a continuous (often-sensationalized) media cycle.
Part of the objective of Monday’s activity was to help the media get an idea of how complicated emergency situations are.
It’s a reporter’s job to ask questions and get answers. I covered the July mass shootings here, and I wanted answers so I could pass information to the public.
But maybe it’s sometimes unrealistic to expect information immediately.
The old adage “If it bleeds, it leads” is more true now than ever, and it’s too easy to forget that there are real people behind every story, behind every law enforcement-related incident.
There’s a difference between responsibly gathering information and presenting it in a sensible way, and approaching every cops-related story with asensational eye and fearmongering headlines.
That doesn’t mean we should stop asking difficult questions, but it is important to understand the perspective of the person on the receiving end of the inquiries and the people we are asking questions about.
The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.