Students learn why cops pull the trigger
By Theresa D. McClellan
For the Fort Bend Star
Photos by Theresa D. McClellan
It was a worst case, no-win scenario.
A routine arrest turns deadly when the child passenger emerges from the vehicle with a long gun and fires on police, trying to save her father from jail.
“Listen honey, put the gun down. Sweetie, don’t…”
Before Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office Citizen’s Academy student Lillian McCrory finishes her sentence, gunfire erupts. A police officer is down and the girl’s father stands horrified that his 11-year-old child shot a cop.
All of the action is on the screen in a simulation training room at the Gus George Law Enforcement Academy in Richmond. But 47-year-old McCrory, a stay-at-home mom who wants to join the sheriff’s office, is holding the gun having to make a split second decision – shoot or don’t shoot. She hesitates and fires.
The students gasp. The girl falls in the grass, long gun at her feet.
“This is not easy,” Sgt. Casey Schmidt tells the citizens as he walks toward the screen to discuss the scenario.
He regularly trains officers on weaponry and real life scenarios. Their best weapon is their mouth to try to de-escalate, but sometimes they are forced to shoot. Thursday night, he gives citizens a taste of what police can encounter in a series of simulations. While 90 percent of law enforcement work can be boring, the remaining 10 percent can be life-changing.
Scene after scene, the citizens step before the floor-to-ceiling simulation screen not knowing if they will talk someone down or be forced to shoot before being shot. Some are familiar with the weaponry; others have never held a weapon and have to be shown how to hold the altered Glock 17 that is used in the exercise.
What is a threat? When is deadly force necessary? If they shoot then throw away the weapon and run, are they still a threat?
“You hear all the time media says, he was running away and shot in the back. Everybody sees things differently and not everything is what it seems. In hindsight, there will always be situations where justification is questionable. Are their bad shootings, yes. Are there justified shootings, yes,” said Schmidt.
The view from behind the gun is different from the ones watching in their seats. One scenario prompted members of the class to yell “shoot, shoot,” as a terrorist with chemical weapons stopped to look at police before running past the felled bodies of his victims in a mall. Their classmates did not shoot.
In another scenario, one woman never saw the assailant stabbing his hostage on the screen while her husband standing next to her saw it and emptied his gun at the target on the screen.
Schmidt questions the class about McCrory’s scenario, if the child with the gun pointed at the officer had been a 20-year-old man would that have been a threat? They all agree it would. So was the child, he explains.
It was a difficult and common scenario. The officer stops the red pickup truck in front of him. He recognizes the driver as one he has stopped and given a break in the past for a warrant violation so he doesn’t take precautions by staying behind his vehicle. This time he tells the motorist he is under arrest. The motorist tells the officer he got busy and would take care of the situation but he was on his way home with his little girl. When the officer cuffs the father, the blonde little girl emerges with a long gun saying her daddy didn’t do anything. She fires on the officer.
“This is a rapid-fire gotta make a decision situation. The only one who will fire quickly is those coming from overseas because they have seen this before,” said the sergeant.
“We can’t gamble. You can’t phone a friend. That’s why this is so hard. We don’t have a textbook for every case. It’s all different. That’s why we train, train, train,” said Schmidt.
The citizens, a group of mothers, fathers, professionals, retirees and students, are on their 10th lesson in a 12-session program. This one is most popular because the hands-on scenarios are vivid and scary and simulate what officers encounter. A gunman holding his boss hostage, mass terror incident at a mall, an open shooter at a business, a traffic stop, a suspicious person who runs from police.
McCrory, who has consistently questioned the instructors each session for more details about their jobs, said she has always wanted to be in law enforcement.
“When I had the opportunity to be in law enforcement earlier I didn’t take it and let everything get in the way, A neighbor, who is an officer, told her of the citizen’s academy and said it would be a good first step. She will apply for a job at the jail and hopes to gain entry into the February Police Academy class. She talks about the scenario with the child.
“My first instinct was that it’s a little girl and I started trying to talk to her as if I were talking to my daughter. But she was screaming and emotional. I was thinking I can’t shoot her, it’s a trick and as soon as the girl next to me shot, I lifted up and started shooting. It stayed with me; it’s like a kick in the gut. I understand why they have administrative leave and counselors for them to talk,” said McCrory.
“They have a tough job,” added McCrory. “I understand why it’s so well revered.”