The pop of gunfire echoed in my head as the man in front of me fell to the ground. My heart was pounding as my finger released the trigger.
Just to be clear, I didn’t actually shoot anyone. But for the split-second between firing a blank round and Officer Brian
Columbino pretending to fall dead at my feet, I got a feel for what it’s like as an officer to discharge a weapon in the line of duty.
That was the point of the exercise—to show Citizens’ Police Academy participants what it felt like to fire, to make that split-second decision, in a situation that has no easy solution.
“You made the right call,” said Sergeant Jake Simkins during our debriefing. Both my ‘partner’ and I fired during the drill, along with all but two of the dozen participants that went through the simulation.
The ‘subject’ in the drill was unarmed when we fired.
After a heated confrontation, Officer Columbino dropped the wrench he was holding, then rushed participants, in most cases getting close enough to actually grab the ‘officers.’ In my case, he actually got close enough to put a hand on my gun before I pulled the trigger.
“If they’re close enough to get your gun, they might not be unarmed for long,” Simkins said.
It seems in recent weeks not a day has gone by without some kind of police shooting, along with the public outcry that almost inevitably follows.
Whether you want to admit it or not, a lot more goes into these situations than what we see on low-quality, partial security footage, or the scrambled details of witness statements filtered through the media.
Very few know what it’s like for an officer to make that decision, and have to live with the consequences.
We found out firsthand that these high stress situations are rarely black-and-white. Officers with the Rhinelander Police Department said in situations like this one, all they can do is follow their training and hope they’re not forced to make that choice.