LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Split-second decisions made by police can mean the difference between life and death. Should officers use force? And how much?
Often after police shootings, community activists question whether officers could have handled things better. Louisville Metro Police recently gave some of those critics a chance to find out for themselves.
Former Louisville Metro Councilwoman Attica Scott and Gary Bryce were among those leading the chants during a protest outside LMPD headquarters following a deadly shooting of a man who attacked an officer with a flagpole last month. They joined fellow activist Chad Golden and traveled to LMPD's firearms training facility on Algonquin Parkway last week to walk in officers' shoes.
"It's a small dose of reality of just how tough it is to be a policeman," said LMPD Lt. Todd Motley, who runs the department's firearms simulator.
Once nicknamed "Shoot Or Don't Shoot," the high-tech, interactive training tool responds to other weapons like tasers and pepper spray in addition to guns.
"You know it's easy to be a critic," Motley said. "You know until you're actually in the room or on the street, it's hard to pass judgment."
Scott went first.
"It was a really honest assessment and experience for us to (ask) in the moment, how do you make decisions between life and death?" she said.
Scott was faced with that decision almost immediately as her video depicted a suspect attacking someone in the hallway of a school. The man was beating the woman with a bat. Scott struggled to pull her training gun out of her holster.
"Sir, whoa!" she yelled, instructed by Motley to interact as if the image on screen was real.
"What are you going to do?" Motley asked Scott as the scenario played out.
Scott hesitated, finally getting off a couple shots. But it was too late. The victim was dead, and the suspect had been given time to turn his attack on police officers.
"I guess you would have just had to shoot," Scott said to Motley, acknowledging her mistake.
"If you wanted to save her," Motley replied. "I mean you can save him by not shooting him, but she dies."
Gary Bryce had no problem pulling the trigger after a man on screen surprised him during a police interview he was supposed to be conducting. The man on the screen pulled back his shirt, revealing a large knife. He then raised the knife.
"Put your hands up or I will shoot you," Bryce yelled at the screen.
The man held the knife above his head in a striking motion. Bryce kept his taser in the holster and fired the training gun. The man on the screen was shot dead in his own home.
"And people are protesting," Bryce said with a laugh, admitting he likely would have been among those critical of police shooting a suspect under those circumstances.
Motley said as tough as the training scenarios are, things happen even faster in real life, and the correct use-of-force option isn't always so clear.
Scott said she will always have questions after police use force, but now she has a lot more answers.
"If we don't at least ask the questions, then we'll never have the conversation," Scott said. "But at the same time, I continue to have the same level of respect I've always had for officers. Just asking questions doesn't mean you don't respect the job that officers have."
Recruits used to be the only ones who trained on that use-of-force simulator. Starting this fall, it will be used in the re-certification process for current officers.