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.
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.”
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