Orleans Citizen Police Academy Chronicles - Week 8

Simulating the unthinkable

The scenario begins with officers receiving a call for a school shooting.  In the virtual environment, the officer enters a middle school building and walks down the main lobby.  The officer walks past dead or wounded students, some begging for help.  Help must come later.  In this moment, officers are seeking an active shooter.

The officer rounds a corner and students run away from an area turns out to be the cafeteria.  Loud popping sounds come from the dining area.  The officer steps into the cafeteria and sees a male wearing tactical gear holding an assault rifle.  The officer hesitates for a moment, thinking he is seeing another police officer.  In that moment, the male points his rifle at the officer and kills him.

That was one of the sobering scenarios presented to the Orleans Citizen Police Academy Monday night as class members received a presentation on the MILO Range 3000 simulation system.  Retired Swampscott Police Officer John Dube explained the technology and ran the class through several of the over 500 scenarios that are stored on the system.

Oversimplified, the MILO Range 3000 system consists of a powerful computer and a system of projectors, screen and laser-enabled versions of the tools an officer would carry in her daily rounds.  The tools are laid out on a table in front of the participant - a gun, a Taser, a can of pepper spray and a police baton.  For the citizen police academy, members focus on the gun and the pepper spray.

Each scenario begins with a dispatch call.  As the officer responds to events on the screen and gives instructions to witnesses and suspects, the system branches in response to the officer's actions.

After each scenario is completed, Mr. Dube and Orleans Officer Patrick Cronin went over the scenario, explained some of the things that developed on screen and discussed with the group, step-by-step, what had happened and how an officer is trained to assess the level of threat.

Police are trained in the Use of Force Continuum.  This system is a guide to the level of force that may be used against a resisting subject.  See the embedded video below for one interpretation of the Use of Force Continuum.

Mr. Dube presented about a dozen scenarios to the group.  In some scenarios, class members played the role of the police officer.  In others, Mr. Dube or Officer Cronin portrayed the officer.  In a police training environment, Mr. Dube described how the trainee would run through the scenario, write up a police report on the incident and then face a grueling critique from the trainers - much like a cross examination in court.

The scenarios ranged from a workplace disturbance by a jealous boyfriend to the shocking school shooting scenario that opened this article.  There were domestic violence calls, a mentally disturbed veteran, a demented senior citizen with a knife, erratic driver with a gun and a shockingly belligerent recipient of a traffic ticket.  

The MILO system provides a realistic training environment for officers.  The scenarios unfold rapidly and with shocking turns. Mr. Dube and Officer Cronin stressed that the scenarios represented the kind of split second decisions an officer must make that could determine whether or not he goes home to his family that night.

The system also reveals how difficult it is to control events in real time.  In one of the domestic violence cases, the victim walks away into another part of the house as the "man with the knife" confronts the officer.  In the parking ticket scenario, which takes place in a police lobby, an officer goes to the lobby to interact with the subject and is shot dead within seconds of stepping into the lobby.

Coming back to the school shooting, the scenario was re-started and the officer this time took down the subject in tactical gear.  Then he was confronted by another shooter who was holding a young girl as a human shield while he brandished a handgun.  In that case, the officer took the shooter out with a single head shot.

There was also a bank robbery scenario where we portrayed an off-duty officer witnessing the robbery.  The officer successfully killed the robber as the bad guy pointed his gun at a bank teller.  Problem is that the officer didn't notice the accomplice on a second floor balcony. The accomplice fired a rifle from above and killed our officer.

Much of the discussion over the scenarios concerned how officers know what level of force to apply in day to day situations.  Mr. Dube made it abundantly clear that if you interact with a police officer while brandishing a gun, the officer has just cause to shoot you at just about any time.  In the real world, officers say there are hundreds of permutations to every scenario and they make every effort to de-escalate a situation before it rises to that level.  That said, many of the scenarios the class observed didn't lend themselves to much evaluation.  They escalated with frightening speed.

Monday night's class was intense and the atmosphere the most sober of any of the sessions thus far.  The scenarios truly put one inside the officers' skin as they face life or death situations.  One takes note that this week is the first anniversary of the murder of Yarmouth K9 Sergeant Sean Gannon during a warrant service call.  That tragedy lends additional local perspective to the MILO 3000 scenarios.

The clearest message that came from Monday's class is that no police officer wants to shoot someone - but every officer wants to come home from his shift alive.  


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