Police officers respond to a disturbance in the parking lot of a school.
When officers arrive, they see a man and woman involved in a heated argument over what appears to be a child custody situation.
The male subject pushes the female, who then reaches into the car and grabs her baby … and a gun.
The female, now holding an infant, suddenly points the gun at the male and shoots.
In a split second, police officers must decide what level of force is necessary – would the officers be justified in using deadly force on the female holding the baby?
This decision could be the difference between a police officer getting shot themselves or going home after their shift.
The scenario wasn’t a real one, but it was one Pasadena Police Officers asked members of the media to consider while they played a video simulator that gave them real life moments that law enforcement officials face.
This was part of a Policing 101 event held at the Pasadena Police Department training facility on May 22nd.
The topic brought up during the video simulator was one of de-escalation of force. A timely subject with the recent passing of AB 392, which gives law enforcement less latitude on the use of deadly force than current state laws.
Along with trying out the use-of-force scenario simulator, media members also had a chance to play the role of police officers in more realistic scenarios where officers played the role of bad guys.
“The purpose was to give (the media) an understanding of not only the laws of de-escalation and the Pasadena Police Department’s policies regarding de-escalation but also provide them with a hands-on opportunity,” said Pasadena PD Lt. Bill Grisafe, one of the presenters at the event. “Their reactions are pretty interesting.”
The Department implemented the media training event last summer when Pasadena Police Chief John Perez saw an opportunity to help provide local media with insight into the day-to-day decision making officer’s face.
He wanted to allow journalists an opportunity to experience what it’s like to make a split second decision and then to have that decision critiqued.
“Officers get critiqued everyday even if they do everything right under the conditions they were faced with or reasonably perceived,” said Commander Jason Clawson, who has been instrumental in coordinating the media events .“We hope to provide awareness to people who cover police in the news with an understanding as to why officers react and conduct operations in a certain way.”
At the media event on Wednesday, members of the media practiced on the video use-of-force simulator, at least one fired shots at a suspect without seeing any weapon.
In one of the outdoor scenarios where police officer-actors were used, a media member didn’t notice a suspect picking up a gun and fleeing the scene.
Obviously, the media members who are participating don’t have the experience, so their understanding of policies and laws may not be to a point where law enforcement officers are,” Grisafe said. “But what it does provide them with … it gives them an opportunity to do common sense stuff and see how they react.”
Journalist James Farr, host of a local cable show titled “The Conversation Live,” often tackles police related issues on his show and was among the media members who participated in the training scenarios.
“I wanted to have their lens so that I can be a little bit more objective in my work,” Farr said. “I wanted to experience some of the things that they (police) experience. They are challenged to make decisions rather quickly.”
In a video scenario, Farr shot a subject who was reaching in his pocket but hadn’t produced a weapon.
In a scenario with live actors, Farr was justified in shooting a suspect who was pointing a gun him.
“I’ve got to trust that a seasoned experienced officer would be able to make that split second decision,” Farr said. ”When you are given that authority to take someone’s life … you have to be sure that what you are doing is the right thing. Decisions are made quickly. Police do make errors. Ideally, they want to do the right thing. Unfortunately, this kind of contact can result in the loss of someone’s life.
It’s not fair to judge the actions of police officers just based on a snippet of a video or a report on television, Grisafe said.
“You can’t judge certain situations too soon because you may not have all the facts,” the lieutenant said. “It’s better to get all the facts before you make a determination as to whether a police officers’ actions are appropriate or inappropriate.
Pasadena PD has been hosting Policing 101 events for the media periodically on different aspects of police work.
Prior events focused on shoot-don’t shoot scenarios, using a Taser and other less lethal weapons.
The next Policing 101 event will cover traffic stops and K9 deployments and will likely take place at the end of summer, Commander Clawson said.