Police officers across the United States are put in dangerous situations nearly every day they’re on the job. At times, those situations compel officers to use deadly force if the lives of the citizens they are sworn to protect or their own lives are in danger.
The Effingham County chapter of “The Well Armed Woman” got a first-hand look at what law enforcement goes through in these situations during a video simulation Thursday at Accuracy Firearms through Project Blue Life. The presentation was sponsored by the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police and presented by FOP Chairman of Trustees Terry Trueblood and Effingham Police Officer Jeremy Kyle.
“For just a few minutes, you get to be a police officer, and you get to engage in the worse case scenerios that we have to do from time to time and get an opportunity to see up close and personal the challenges that are faced by Illinois law enforcement, Trueblood told the group of 15 women.
“Law enforcement in general across the United States is really challenged right now with public perception. I think it’s really important to give you the background information on what happens in these high-stress situations.”
Each TWAW member took a turn with the shooting simulator. Kyle gave the participants a brief summary of the situation they were going into before playing a video from an officer’s perspective.
The participants were “armed” with a simulated Glock 22 .40 caliber pistol, which is the weapon most officers across the country use, Trueblood said.
In one simulation, participants were pumping gas when an aggressive man came up and yelled for money. The man then pulled out a black object out of his pocket, and the participant had to decide whether to engage the threat or take another route.
Trueblood explained in his presentation that officers are trained to work around the typical human body reactions that occur when a person is in a high-stress situation, such as an officer-involved shooting.
In such instances, Trueblood said an average citizen’s fine motor skills are no longer functional, tunnel vision takes effect and “auditory exclusion” kicks in. Officers are trained to be aware of these body responses and often have to ignore their own body’s reaction to the stressor.
“You’ll see police officers, when they’re trained properly ... after they get done engaging a target, they’ll move their entire shoulders and body left and right, left and right, and what they’re doing is they’re making sure there’s no other threats. They do this because they’re aware of the perceptial narrowing,” Trueblood said.
“If you hear a police officer screaming really loud at somebody, they’re taught to do that because the person that they’re trying to arrest is also suffering from that (auditory exclusion). It’s high-stress for them, too, and other officers around, so loud, verbal, repetitive commands are used because they’re trying to get through to them. They’re not trying to be mean. They’re not trying to be anything. They just know this exists.”
Illinois FOP President Chris Southwood also attended the presentation. He said the simulation and presentation are geared toward individuals who will be asking questions and making decisions about police-involved shootings such as media, clergy, local officials and more.
Trueblood said a panel of doctors who helped gather the information for the presentation found that it takes officers two full sleep cycles to remember accurately the details of a shooting incident. He said that is why law enforcement often waits to release information on incidents; they want to be as accurate as possible.
Lori Richardson of Ashmore was one participant. Often her biggest fear as a licensed concealed carry gun owner is misinterperting a high-stress situation, so the presentation opened her eyes to the decisions officers have to make.
“I think one of my biggest fears is that I’ll misread a situation, and I will kill somebody that wasn’t a threat. My concealed carry instructor was very, very point blank with me and he said anytime somebody else has a gun, that’s a threat,” Richardson said. “He (Terry Trueblood) said the same thing. He said he didn’t have it pointed at you but he was still a threat, and that’s what I have to get in my head.”
Richardson said she traveled to Effingham for the presentation because she wants to become more comfortable with handling and firing a gun and to also learn how to better protect herself and her grandsons.
She said the more she pratices with her firearm, the more it will become second nature, like it does for officers.
Brandi Bruno of Vandalia said for her, the presentation was all about continuing her firearms eduation while learning more about what law enforcement does.
“I think if you are a responsible gun owner, you need to keep your education up when it comes to firearems,” Bruno said.
Southwood said the idea of Project Blue Life came about after former Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke was convicted of second-degree murder after killing teenager Laquan McDonald while on duty.
“With the officer involved shootings — there was a really bad one up in Chicago with officer Jason Van Dyke — after that came out, many of us really felt that Jason was justified in his actions. It’s just people don’t understand exactly what had happened,” Southwood said. “There truly was a false narrative surrounding that entire circumstance. I’m not sure the everyday average citizen got the full story.”
In October, a jury found Van Dyke guilty of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm in the 2014 killing of the black teenager. He’s serving six years and nine months in prison. Last month, the Chicago Police Board voted to fire a sergeant and three other veteran officers for “outright lying or shading the truth” about the case, according to WBEZ in Chicago.
Southwood said the case convinced the FOP to bring Project Blue Life to average citizens and media members. He said what is reported in the media – or in the video recorded by a police body cam – often does not tell the full story of a situation.
“A video absolutely doesn’t tell the whole story, and often times doesn’t tell the real story,” Southwood said. “That’s really what this is all about. We want people to see and understand by putting them in the officer’s position the best we can.”
The Well Armed Woman is a group focused on “educating, empowering and equipping” women for their “for their effective and responsible self-defense with a firearm.” The state FOP serves as an advocate group for Illinois law enforcement.