Citizens Academy: A unique education covering use of force

Dave Huffman participates in a scenario in which a man in an apartment complex talks to himself and his Elmo doll Thursday at DeKalb County Sheriff's Office Citizens Academy. The training was to determine how to assess the danger the man posed, and then try to resolve the situation. Things escalated when the man pulled a knife and threatened to stab the doll.[]

DeKALB – It takes a trained police officer about a second and a half to recognize a threat, draw a weapon from the holster and aim. If you’re not a police officer, have never had to draw a weapon from a holster before, and never been in a situation where a gun is being pointed at you, it takes a little longer. And feels like forever.

When the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office’s Citizens Academy took classes in use of force, they used a training simulator that several local law enforcement agencies use to train officers before they go into the field. Students were equipped with belt that had a Glock, stun gun and pepper spray and told what they were responding to – a traffic stop, a domestic disturbance, a man talking to himself in the middle of an apartment complex, among the scenarios.

Off to the side, Sheriff’s Deputy Jason Johnson could control the situation, and change the action on the screen based on what you said or how he wanted the stop to play out. As I came up from behind a car at a traffic stop, and my (actor) partner went to talk to the driver, the trunk of the car popped open.

It was little more than two seconds before a man climbed out of the trunk with a gun and got a shot off in my direction. I pulled the pistol from my belt, and fired a shot – a carbon-dioxide cartridge in it even giving it a bit of recoil. The man on the screen dropped with a bullet to the torso.

“We don’t shoot to wound, we don’t shoot to kill,” Johnson said. “We shoot to stop the threat.”

But identifying what is a threat and how to approach it can be the challenging part.

When another student came upon a domestic disturbance, he saw a husband and wife arguing and, in a flash, she had pulled out a knife from the other side of the room and stabbed her husband. Afterward, the student said that until he was stabbed, he assumed the husband was the aggressor and abuser in the situation.

It sounds like an immersive video game, but the adrenaline is real. The group went on to simulate real traffic stops, with members of the Sheriff’s Auxiliary acting out scenarios.

Again, pretending but not really, I walked up to a stopped car after it rolled through a stop sign and, before I reached the back, the driver jumped out. This time I was better about getting my gun out.

“Why are you pulling a gun on me?” the driver yelled.

Admittedly, I’d had little training going into the simulations, but it’s very difficult to identify who is a threat and how to respond.

The class is an up-close chance to not just hear what goes on in the law enforcement community, but to experience it. From hearing 911 calls when they first come in to touring the jail, it’s an opportunity to see the entire process. Serious and fun, with free coffee and cookies provided by Sweet Dreams, it’s an opportunity to gain a new perspective on what goes when keeping people safe.