A student’s first-hand experience with police ‘use-of-force’ simulation

Photos and story by Angele Latham / Contributing Writer

My heart was racing, forcing the blood through my body with an insistent, pounding drum beat that only got faster and faster and faster still. Adrenaline coursed through me, causing the palm of one hand to become sweaty against the grip of the gun on my hip. The other hand tapped a nervous beat against my thigh as I walked towards the parked vehicle in front of me, not knowing what danger lies ahead.

Of course, the danger here was not, in fact, real – and neither was the gun at my hip. In reality, I had been immersed in a “use-of-force” simulation, one where I was armed with a training Glock and thrust into a nerve-wracking situation that many police officers face every single day.

A training Glock handgun loaded with non-projectile flash simulation rounds is provided to students for simulating police use of force in Murfreesboro, Tenn., on Friday, Oct. 26. (Angele Latham / MTSU Sidelines)

The “Live, Use of Force” simulation, put on by the MTSU Police Department and the Department of Criminal Justice on Friday, Oct. 26 at the Highland Lot parking garage, was part of a research and community engagement project designed to let students step into the daily lives of police officers for just 30 minutes. The exercise allowed students to engage in mock scenarios that forced them to evaluate their own views on the use of force and their response to hostile situations.

In case you were not already aware, simulation training is designed to help people to experience real-world situations within a controlled and safe environment. It is no secret that policing can involve complex interactions between officers and community members. Unfortunately, these interactions often occur in dangerous and stressful situations that require officers to make rapid decisions to mitigate escalation and prevent harm.

Accordingly, this kind of decision-making requires effective training that mirrors the sources of real-world stress. Consequently, police departments frequently use physical mock-ups and large-scale simulations to reflect actual situations in a realistic way.

“This event puts you in the situation of a law enforcement officer, so you get to see things from our eyes,” said MTSU Police Sgt. Jason Hurley, who worked as the students’ leader throughout the intense process. “Basically the whole event is to see whether or not by talking to them (the suspects), by judging their actions and seeing how cooperative or not cooperative they’re being. Would you use force in this situation or would you not? … The goal is for people to see us and how we do things from our point of view. So we’re opening up our doors to let you come in and see kind of what some of the general public does to us or some of the calls we respond to and see how you would react.”

If it was reactions they wanted, it was reactions they received. As students cycled through the simulations, one could see as the seriousness of the situation dawned on them. From the initial traffic stop scenario, complete with a belligerent driver filming your every move, to a strong-armed robber breaking into a vehicle, students were forced to react quickly and decisively to situations they did not expect to find themselves in.

Freshman Vanessa Tate, who is studying criminal justice and international relations, was visibly shaken – but no less in awe than the rest of us – as she stepped out of the final simulation.

“Just from majoring in criminal justice, I already knew that use of force is something that people don’t (often) understand,” she said. “Like, you hear the shootings in the news and people automatically get their own ideas of what happened. They don’t understand all the things surrounding an incident like that. Doing this just shows you what officers go through every day. It was very scary. I definitely could not have this job.”

Opening students’ eyes to the dangers and realities of police work was the ultimate goal for this exercise, though the MTPD hopes this realization will carry over into real-world change.

“I just hope that it gives them (students) a better understanding of what we go through as law enforcement officers, and maybe kind of know that we are human, and we do care about their safety and we want to do the best job that we can,” Hurley said. “And just for them to see a little about what we go through every day, and maybe they can realize that these guys work really hard and that we really are trying to build trust back into the community. Trust that has been lost in law enforcement for a little while now.”

To contact News Editor Caleb Revill, email newseditor@mtsusidelines.com.

For more news, follow us at www.mtsusidelines.com, on Facebook at MTSU Sidelines and on Twitter at @Sidelines_News.

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  1. Jackson Bieger
    November 15, 2018

    I think activities like this are a good way to level out perceptions. It can often seem that many people are distrustful of police, with groups like Black Lives Matter citing a high number of highly questionable deaths of black Americans at the hands of police. What’s interesting, however, is a Gallup poll that stated only 15% of those polled had little to no trust in the police. (https://news.gallup.com/poll/236243/military-small-business-police-stir-confidence.aspx). I would be interested to know details about the people who participated, like socioeconomic status, race, religion, etcetera.

    Regardless, I believe anything that can help bridge the gap between opposing ideologies is a good thing. It’s my opinion that the extreme polarization of political and social viewpoints in America is one of the biggest problems the country is facing and will face. I don’t know and probably never will know exactly what happened during those situations in which people appeared to have been wrongfully killed; however, if people do nothing but demonize those they feel are wrong, no progress can be made. If, for instance, someone has a negative but unfounded opinion of a group, and then that group goes on to exemplify the negative stereotype, why should we expect that person

  2. abmtsu20
    December 4, 2018

    I think this article was written very well. I know articles that cover events can only be so long, but I would’ve liked more information. I think the author did a great job at staying objective and not using personal opinions on the matter. I think having a simulation like this is helpful because it allows students to get a hands on feel of how officers might feel when they are in the field. I think this was a good opportunity to attempt to regain trust with the public, from a police officer’s perspective. I wish that that more students would’ve heard about the event because events like this could possibly help the entire student body.
    Although I think the event was helpful in allowing students to see what it is like for police officers when they’re in the field, I think that there should still be more efforts in gaining back the people’s trust. Yes, the simulation gave people hands on experience that would be similar to what the officers deal with on a day to day basis, but I think there should be more events from law enforcement across the country to help gain back trust. I personally believe that if the people begin to see a change in how police officers react in these situations and begin to see that they are trying their best to not use brute force if not necessary then they would win back trust from a lot of people.