Friday, August 17, 2007

I killed a man today

I shot a man today. Shot him three times. Bang, Bang, Bang! Right in the chest. He died a few seconds later.

Fortunately, I was using a gun with pellets, and the guy I was blasting was wearing protective equipment.

I was putting together a story on Akron's new police cadets as they prepare to graduate next week. A whopping 33 of them. And the department can't wait to get the added help.

Today's training involved mock shootouts in low-light (can anyone say "midnight shift"?) for the soon-to-be men in blue. (There is one female cadet by the way) Additionally, the cadets also went through "box" training.

Modeled after high-intensity military training, "box" exercises force the cadets into multiple rapid-fire scenarios where they may have to open fire or take some other physical form of control. Conducted inside a nearly-dark room, the cadet is lead in with a pillow case over their head and spun around to disorient them. Then a training officer whispers a scenario to them, usually something like "you've received a call of a suspicious person walking the streets with a gun" and then the pillow case is yanked off. Immediately, the officer is attacked by a suspect who tries to wrestle him for his gun.

When that scenario ends, the cadet is again forced to wear a pillowcase on his head and given another set of circumstances. At times, he opens his eyes to find danger right on top of him. Each time, the challenge is only a few feet away and unpredictable.

Did I mention that rock music is blaring the entire time to add to the confusion?

So after we shot video of an entire exercise for our story, the training officers invited me to give it a try. Unlike the cadets, I was wearing a tie and dress shoes. So I took those off and tucked a pistol into my belt and picked up a flashlight. What the heck, right?

As the training officer put the pillow case over my head to start the exercise, I told him, "this isn't fair because I've already seen all the scenarios." He told me, "oh no you haven't. We have another one just for you." Oh, greattttttttttttt! I'll end up with a broken arm for sure.

The training officer led me toward the rock music, spun me around three times and I began to get tense in my disorientation. I was convinced that a large man in a padded suit was just a foot or so away and ready to pummel me. I was ready for a fight.

The training officer then whispered, "you've received a call of a man holding a hostage. GO!"

As the pillow case was ripped off my head, I heard someone yell "help!" to my right. I turned to see a man on his knees while another man held a gun to his head. While I've since seen the videotape, I can hardly remember the next few seconds. I pulled my gun, told the man to drop his, and a second later shot him three times in the chest until he fell. Continuing to scream at him, I then jumped on the man's back to pin him to the matt and pushed the hostage to the ground, not knowing what his real deal was. I then began scanning the room for additional bad guys and the training officer yelled "stop."

Police Lieutenant Jerry Hughes said I did better than many of the cadets because I didn't hesitate once I made a decision to open fire and because I recognized that the perceived "hostage" might also be a threat. The bad guy had a gun to another's head so I was justified in taking him out. The more I think about it, the more I'm just glad that I hit the target with each shot. It's dangerous to think about where stray bullets can end up and also I'm glad I didn't shoot the hostage, which easily could have happened.

I'll chalk my success up to military training, but to be honest, the story I left with today was one of respect for how quickly an officer's heartbeat can double its rate and how fast these young cops have to make life-and-death decisions.

Without the videotape, I wouldn't even know how many shots I fired. That's how quickly instinct took over. I'll remember that the next time we have an officer-involved shooting.

It never fails to amaze me that local officers involved in shootouts on the streets are almost always doing nothing but mundane nonsense in the minutes leading up to the shootings. Then, in a split second, they go through a training flashback and make a life-or-death decision. I was joking in a hallways with young cops and moments later was shooting a man in the chest from five feet away.

The story will air next week, so you can judge my reaction for yourself .. but the bigger story is how talented and brave these cadets really are.

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