The Dallas Police Association would like it known that you, the civilian outraged by recent police shootings and/or the proposal to legislate where someone can stand to film cops, are wrong. Policing, they want to make clear, is a tough job occupied by human beings who must make split-second, life-and-death decisions, increasingly while being shadowed by some camera-toting asshole bent on YouTube stardom.
To underscore this point, the DPA last week invited local opinion-makers -- City Council members, respected journalists, Steve Blow -- to participate in a police simulator at its headquarters in the Cedars. Equipped with a disabled handgun, Taser and pepper spray, participants were thrust in front of a video screen and put through three interactive scenarios that mimic situations cops might encounter on patrol. (We shot our own video of the event. You can find it at the bottom of this story.)
As a PR ploy, this was equal parts brilliant and cringe-worthy. Brilliant because journalists and politicians, as a general rule, make terrible cops. Putting them through a police simulator while a gaggle of veteran cops look on, bemused, will force them to confront their ineptitude head on and remind them that they are hacks with no practical skills who are unworthy of having opinions. Cringe-worthy because it was executed with all the subtlety of a Michael Bay movie.
The format went like this: Participants sat through a brief, classroom-style session taught by DPA third vice president/former Dallas Police Academy trainer Mike Mata, who explained the department's use-of-force continuum (a stair-step basically leading from polite instructions to deadly force, though officers can skip steps depending on the situation), talked about why a Taser probably won't work inside of 10 feet (the two diodes that cause muscle contractions will hit too close together) and demonstrated how quickly a person wielding, say, a screwdriver, can close the several feet separating him from a cop.
Next came the simulator itself. The device, the same one the Texas Municipal Police Association uses to train actual cops, has hundreds of scenarios, but the reporters and politicians were put through only three. The first was a simple trespassing call at a warehouse that -- SURPRISE! -- is interrupted by a hyper-aggressive, Kory Watkins-esque cop watcher. The second is a domestic violence call that ends up in the backyard with the husband wielding a barbecue fork. The third is a simple traffic stop involving a very large, very uncooperative black man. Competent police work would presumably keep the participant from being shot by the surly trespasser, stabbed with the barbecue fork and punched out by the speeder but, as we mentioned, reporters and politicians make terrible cops and so invariably find themselves in a kill-or-be-killed scenario. These are punctuated, once the lights are turned on, by DPA brass or their TMPA counterparts delivering a pointed lecture on the need for state Representative Jason Villalba's cop-watch bill, how deadly force is justified to stop someone with even a non-traditional weapon, like a fork or a screwdriver, and how the presence of a gun on a cop's hip can turn a seemingly innocuous traffic stop into an occasion for using deadly force, if an unarmed suspect has a reasonable chance of wresting away the gun.
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While the exercise may have lacked nuance, it proved effective as a propaganda tool. Most participants, including an anti-police shooting activist, walked out expressing a new-found respect for police work and promising to reserve judgment in the future. Me, I was just reminded that I'm a hack with no practical skills who is wholly unqualified to express opinions.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.