2004-05-07 / Community

The Citizen’s Police Academy Report

The Citizen’s Police Academy Report


BRIAN MAGOOLAGHANBRIAN MAGOOLAGHAN

There is nothing more frightening than hearing the nasty pop, pop, pop of a handgun and seeing the muzzle flash in your direction – and if there’s one thing I will remember from the Citizen’s Police Academy for the rest of my life, that’s going to be it.

"That muzzle flash is the last thing you want to see," warned Police Officer Deborah Medina, a firearms instructor at the police academy, as we all stood in one of the firearms training rooms. Medina and Police Officer Joseph Gentile, also a firearms instructor, led this week’s lecture and ran us through the simulator that, for the first time in my life, made me think about what it would be like to be shot at.

Four at a time we were given Glock handguns, which were wired into a central computer. We lined up about ten feet away from a large screen on which "common" scenarios were projected in the first-person perspective. A narrator described the "job" before each one got underway.

When my turn came it was an EDP shots fired call at an office building. Cheers if you remembered that EDP stands for emotionally disturbed person.

Cut to the action – we’re standing at the entrance of an office space within the building. A female officer is taking cover against a wall close to our right side. There is a support pillar directly in front of us. To the left there is a desk about 15 feet away. To the right there is a doorway about the same distance off.

I didn’t notice all of the room’s characteristics immediately. There are details that just don’t register with civilians; we aren’t trained to enter rooms and immediately locate entrances and obstacles.

Back to the action. An unarmed woman comes running out of a doorway screaming. I realize the door now for the first time. At that point, I wonder where I had been aiming my gun and I take aim at the doorway.

"An innocent person is going to come out of that door next – make sure you don’t shoot them," I was thinking smugly when pop, pop, pop – shots came from the direction of the desk, on the left. A man was standing there firing on us. I took aim and fired, but I was distracted by the thought that I might have been "hit" and by the sound of all the gunfire.

Medina stopped the simulator and asked each of us how many shots we fired – beginning with me. I could feel that my heart was beating faster. After a pause I answered correctly – two. The guy next to me said three, but he fired four times. The other two people underestimated their number of shots as well.

Medina replayed the scenario. We could now see where our guns were aimed, where we shot and where our bullets landed. Before the unarmed woman came out of the door screaming I had my gun aimed at my partner’s neck. Brilliant. Then, I saw my aim shift to the door. Good. Next, the guy behind the desk opens fire – getting off three shots before any of us returned one. My two shots missed (does it matter by how much?), as did everyone else’s. Disastrous.

How did I miss? The first thing I did when I picked up the Glock was practice aiming it. I felt confident – I know how to line up a gun’s front and rear sights. I’ve owned BB guns and .22 caliber rifles, and I’ve fired shotguns upstate, but I missed because I didn’t aim the gun. All I could manage to do, while the bad-guy was shooting at us, was point my weapon in his direction. I never deliberately lined up my sights and placed my mark on his chest.

Now, I know some of you are thinking, "Come on kid, you were shooting a pretend gun at a pretend bad-guy who was pretending to shoot back. Get over it."

Those people should find pictures of shooting victims, take a good look at them and understand what bullets do to the human body. I took photographs of a pool of blood with the piece of a shooting victim’s skull beside it less than a year ago and the memory of it makes me wary of guns more than anything else I have seen. I’ll never forget how thick the blood was or the color of it, and how sick I felt on my way back to the Wave office, thinking about how many registered and illegal guns there are on the peninsula.

The firearms simulator was disturbingly realistic: not a videogame, not Lethal Weapon II. The sound of gunfire was loud in the room, and the shots always seemed to come faster than we could react. Only once was there a buildup where we could have had a clue that shots were coming. In other words – that macho movie stuff where the bad guy threatens to shoot the cop and then goes to pull his weapon – only the cop draws his faster and kills the bad guy – is crap.

One group of four was so stunned that they didn’t fire at all as the bad-guy ran at then with a knife. With the scenarios filmed in the first-person perspective, it looked like the bad-guy was right in their faces stabbing away by the time Medina stopped the action.

"What did he say?" asked one woman with her arms still raised, gun pointed at the screen. She was apparently more interested in what expletive the guy uttered before going berserk.

Some of the others had the opposite problem. One group fired a total of 15 shots in just 5 seconds, and another group fired 28 shots in 40 seconds. It seemed like some people were able to decide when to shoot, but never thought about stopping. One woman did manage to shoot the bad-guy three times, once before he fired his first shot. I think she got lucky.

There are just five weeks left to the Citizen’s Police Academy spring semester. The class was buzzing this week with talk of the customary plaque that we will present to Commissioner Raymond Kelly, which will eventually be displayed on the fifth floor of the academy. The competition is on for a valedictorian, who will give a five-minute welcoming speech at our upcoming graduation at One Police Plaza. There’s even talk of an after party.

Between now and our exciting finale we’ll be learning techniques for pulling over a vehicle, we’ll hear from the Internal Affairs Bureau and I’ll have the opportunity to tour the 101 Precinct as part of my second ride-along. The spring brings so many things to look forward to.


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