Videos, lasers teach police decision-making skills
Every year, the men and women of the Versailles Police Department (VPD) do some of their most important work in a dark room with FATS - the Firearms Training System provided by the Kentucky League of Cities to departments across the state. "It's a great training tool for officers for decision-making," said Officer Nathan Craig, the lead firearms instructor for the VPD. On this day, Mayor Brian Traugott listened to instructions from Craig about the various lethal and non-lethal weapons he might be using in the simulations: a handgun, an AR-15 patrol rifle, a shotgun, pepper spray and a Taser, all disabled, and all armed with lasers rather than bullets or electricity-filled darts. "I enjoy learning what our men and women on the streets deal with every day, and the kind of pressures they operate under, so it's more interesting to me," said Traugott. Craig said concerns about prosecution and lawsuits are real problems for police officers these days. "Oftentimes ... we've got several knives or sharp instrument scenarios, and I've had multiple officers, even this year, pull out a Taser instead of a gun," Craig said. "If you're by yourself and I'm within the confines of this room, and somebody pulls out a knife on me, that's a deadly force threat. The Taser, while very effective and a great tool, is a mechanical tool, and it's subject to failure. So if I try to shoot this at you, the cartridge could fail to fire, the Taser itself could fail to work, I could miss you with the darts, the darts could hit a part of baggy clothing and not be effective on you, so there's all kinds of problems that could cause this to to ineffective." Before officers go through the FATS program, they must first lock all their weapons in a nearby box to prevent the possibility of a real shot through the screen, Craig said. (Officers also undergo at least twice-yearly real firearms training, according to Chief James Fugate.) Traugott asked Craig about the difference between lethal and non-lethal force. "It's a legal, technical difference, because non-lethal is going to mean there's no way of causing death. Less lethal means it's less than a lethal measure/step and we're trying to prevent death from occurring," Craig said. "It could be a simple call to where the call is resolved in just a few minutes. And of course, too, when the officer arrives, he thinks it's really not anything, how it can just change so quick," Craig said. "So it's a great decision training system and the officers always look forward every year to doing this, because this is about as close as you can get without actually being into a real situation." Even a Taser can cause injury or death if the person struck by the darts is on an incline and falls and suffers a head injury, or is over-excited or suffers from medical problems, Craig said. Some people are allergic to pepper spray, he added. After Craig explained how each of the weapons is used, Traugott was armed with a Glock handgun. Before the first simulation, there was an on-screen explanation of laws dealing with the use of force. The scenario involved a residence that's been unoccupied for several months. The owner told the officer (Traugott) that she uses it for storage, but a neighbor saw someone in the garage. She opened the garage door, and inside was a man lying on mattress. "Let me see your hands," Traugott said, then repeated the order. The man replied, "What do you want? Yeah, yeah, you got me. Alright? You caught me. Are you happy?" Traugott told the man to keep his hands up. "I'll go. I'll go. Just let me grab ..." the man replied. Four shots rang out, at least one of them fired by Traugott, who may have been struck multiple times himself. "So, this guy was very quick on the draw, wasn't he?" asked Craig. "Too quick," Traugott replied. Craig wasn't too tough on the newbie. "Officers are trained to, whenever we search a residence or a house like that, we're trained to draw our guns and search the residence, because it's an unknown place and you've got to be prepared," Craig said. "Really, you were still kind of standing outside the garage. At first, you could see this guy's hands, so an officer may or may not have had their gun in their hands at this point. I probably wouldn't have, depending on what my internal threat level was reading at the time." Craig concluded, "Action is always faster than reaction." Traugott went through several other simulations and non-participating video segments showing real-life situations. After the training, he admitted to being dropped twice, once because he was too slow (the above scenario) and once because of bad aim. "I hesitate to use the word enjoyable," Traugott said of the experience. It's a good experience ... These things happen at the speed of light, and it's easy to see how difficult the decision-making is."