React fast, react smart: police officers hold lives in their hands

React fast, react smart: police officers hold lives in their hands

Big Read: In the moment, do you make the decision to shoot— or not?

This is the second of three related stories by Victoria News multimedia journalist Nicole Crescenzi. She participated in a version of the Reality Based Training (RBT) engaged in by Victoria Police Department officers, and writes about the stress and potential danger members face on an almost daily basis dealing with calls involving violence or threats.

I felt the weight of a police officer’s heavy utility belt for the first time recently.

Armed with pepper spray, a baton and a gun loaded with coloured pellets, we ran through stressful, reality based situations involving actors wielding weapons of various kinds.

In the first scenario, I was led into a dark room by control tactics co-ordinator, Const. Kris Greffard.

“Eyes left, eyes left, eyes left,” she said, leading me in, my gun drawn.

She looked at me reassuringly.

“Deep breath in, deep breath out,” she said, her teal eyes gazing at me, calming me. “When you turn around I want you to address the subject in front of you, do you understand?”

“Yes,” I replied.

I turned around, feeling like I’d rolled into a slow motion scene from a movie. I saw a man dressed head to toe in black with a mask. He reached to his side, pulled out a gun and shot me. I shot him back, but I was already hit.

The Victoria Police Department conducted a series of reality-based training exercises, including de-escalation scenarios. (Arnold Lim/Black Press)

In a second situation, the same man was facing a wall. I ordered him to turn around, I asked his name and told him to put his hands up, because I noticed him holding something. My gun was drawn, but I saw he was holding a mug. I put my gun down.

In another scenario, the man had something in his pocket. He dropped it – it was a phone – but he dove to grab it and I told him to get up slowly, with his hands up. He reached for something else and I shot him.

“You saw it was a phone, why did you still shoot him?” Greffard asked.

I didn’t know he wasn’t armed with something else – everyone has a phone, I said. Still, I felt sick and so guilty. Should I have shot him? Did I kill an innocent man?

Of course he was an actor, one of VicPD’s own participating in the training. What if he had been a real person?

Action is faster than reaction, we were told. Do they have the ability, the intention and the means to cause grievous bodily harm or death?

ALSO READ: What it’s like to hit a cop: reality-based training with the Victoria Police

We ran through more drills in teams, searching hallways as men brandished bats made more deadly with contorted nails. A neighbor appears, checking to see what’s going on. Is she safe? Are my fellow officers safe? Am I safe? Is he going to lunge at me with the bat? The man is drunk and slurring and he’s very, very angry. The neighbours are also angry, they’re yelling. The suspect lunges towards us, and he gets shot.

“I got that all on film! Police brutality!” an actress yelled.

A great deal of focus in RBT is on de-escalating a situation.

“We carry weapons with us, but our greatest tool is communication,” Greffard said.

Read the person, read their body language. Talk to them, ask open-ended questions. By applying these techniques we were able to calm down and arrest a man wielding a crowbar.

Most of the time, Greffard said, police tactics are not violent.

“Of all the reports I reviewed, specifically in 2017 because those are the ones that I’m going off that are most current, approximately one per cent of police interactions with the public resulted in force above compliant handcuffing,” she said.”Which, in the grand scheme of things, is pretty low.”

Many police officers no longer choose to wear a baton on their belt, and while all carry OC spray – commonly known as pepper spray – it was used only 13 times by VicPD officers in 2017.

Still, police need to prepare for the worst.

In a sad nod to today’s trends, another scenario dealt with an active shooter in a busy building.

“Police officers’ main tactics are defense,” said Const. Dylan Bruce. “But in situations like this, the main goal is to stop the killing.”

He listed four possible outcomes: the suspect committing suicide was by far the most likely, at 40 per cent. Given the goal of preventing more deaths, it’s considered a positive outcome, Bruce said. Another outcome is the suspect going after the police, which is also seen as positive as it achieves the goal of diverting attention away from the public. Others include the suspect giving up or trying to flee the scene.

It’s important, we heard, to gather as much information as possible about a situation and report to your team. “Sometimes police get into trouble because from an optical view, we’re just standing around doing nothing,” Bruce said. “But we’re actually getting information and setting up our team.”

Other times, officers go in blind.

Nicole Crescenzi (centre)with media personnel Brishti Basu (left) and Katie DeRosa (right) participate in a police training exercises where media were taught how to use a gun, and put into controlled scenarios with actors mimicking potential police calls. (Arnold Lim/Black Press)

Despite the violence of the scenarios, it was still imperative that we assessed the situation and try to remove the emotion.

“That’s not easy if you’re walking over the bodies of children,” Greffard said, painting a grisly picture. “Or, if the shooter is a child themselves.”

We walked into a situation in the same hallway as before, were told an active shooter was inside, but not given any other information.

An actor played a dead police officer, while another was at his side screaming in fear and anger, “There’s a shooter in here!”

The hallway was dark, there were many doors and the rattle of firing bullets played off of a speaker. My heart was pumping and my team moved forward, checking doors, finding people hiding in rooms.

Third room in, we found the shooter, who fired at us and we fired back.

“Kings scene!” Greffard yelled, indicating the end of the scenario.

Guns were holstered and the lights came on. I let out a breath with relief, and a new-found understanding that officers must be prepared to face these type of situations every shift.

In a split second, police must take in the many moving parts of a scene: who is in trouble? Who is a threat and how much? Should I draw my weapon; which weapon should I use? Should I kill this person? Will this person kill me? Will they kill anyone else?

I found it nearly impossible to resist shooting a person I felt was threatening me or the team. Of course, I had a fake gun with a fake enemy and the consequences were far less devastating.

Police officers can be forced to make these calculations every day, and they often face criticism over their actions – whether they saved a life, took one away or both.

The weight of the surrounding world rests heavily on their badged shoulders.

For me, the weight of responsibility left as soon as I removed the utility belt from my waist, with nothing left but a slight bruise on my hip.

nicole.crescenzi@vicnews.com

Victoria Police Department

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A police car at the scene of a child’s death Friday, April 9, at the Falcon Nest Motel in Duncan. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
RCMP investigating child’s death at Duncan’s Falcon Nest Motel

First responders attended to a call about an unresponsive child at the… Continue reading

Chemainus Art Group creates mural mosaic to celebrate a joyful spring. (Photo submitted)
Art group members celebrate a joyful spring in Chemainus

Each of 33 squares pushed together into one mural

Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools’ district administration centre. (News Bulletin file)
Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district gets started on new budget amid unknowns

Ministry’s per-student funding increase doesn’t fully cover pay raises for teachers and support staff

A 3.0-magnitude earthquake occurred off Ucluelet just after 12:30 a.m. on April 10 and was reportedly felt as far south as Oregon. (Map via United States Geological Survey)
Quake off Ucluelet reportedly felt as far south as Oregon

Magnitude 1.5 earthquake also reported off Vancouver Island’s west coast hours earlier

Transfer Beach Dippers have been taking to the waters of Transfer Beach as safely as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Submitted photo)
‘Transfer Beach Dippers’ group finds community in the cold water

Dippers tend to dip at 6am, 8:45am, or 6pm at Transfer Beach

Burnaby MLA Raj Chouhan presides as Speaker of the B.C. legislature, which opened it spring session April 12 with a speech from the throne. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C. NDP promises more health care spending, business support in 2021 budget

John Horgan government to ‘carefully return to balanced budgets’

A youth was arrested following a car crash on Wallace Street on Saturday, April 10. (Karl Yu/News Bulletin)
Onlookers laugh and jeer as B.C. teen beaten, then forced to strip and walk home

Police arrest older teen, call video shared on social media ‘disturbing’

A lady wears a sticker given out after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count slows after last week’s peak

3,219 new cases since Friday, 18 additional deaths

North Cowichan councillor Tek Manhas did not violate the municipality’s code of conduct by posting a sexist meme on Facebook, council concludes. (File photo)
B.C. municipality to take no action against councillor who posted sexist meme

Tek Manhas’s meme doesn’t violate North Cowichan council’s code of conduct, municipality concludes

A 41-person air task force, including 12 members from 407 Long Range Patrol Squadron at 19 Wing Comox, seized more than $3 million CND worth of cocaine as part of Op Caribbe. Photo by Canadian Armed Forces Operations/Facebook
Vancouver Island team helps make $368 million three-tonne cocaine seizure

12 members from 19 Wing Comox involved in Op Caribbe

Killer whales surface near Sebastion Beach in Lantzville on Sunday, April 11. (Photos courtesy Ella Smiley)
Chainsaw and friends near the beach thrill orca watchers in Lantzville

Jagged-finned orca named Chainsaw and 17 others spent hours off Sebastion Beach this weekend

Nootka Sound RCMP and DFO Conservation and Protection Officers seized this 30 foot vessel, fishing gear and equipment as well as Chinook salmon, salmon roe, rock fish and ling cod after an investigation on Sept. 11. A judge in Campbell River on February hit the owner and his accomplices with significant fines, a ban on holding fishing licences and loss of equpment, including the boat’s motor and trolling motor. RCMP photo
Washington State trio’s fisheries violations the worst veteran officer has seen in 20 years

Judge bans three men from fishing or holding a fishing licence anywhere in Canada

—Image: contributed
Indoor wine tastings still allowed in B.C., not considered a ‘social gathering’

“Tasting is really just part of the retail experience. The analogy I use is you wouldn’t buy a pair of pants without trying them on.”

A sign on a shop window indicates the store is closed in Ottawa, Monday March 23, 2020. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business is raising its estimate for the number of businesses that are considering the possibility of closing permanently. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Small business struggling amid COVID-19 pandemic looks for aid in Liberals’ budget

President Dan Kelly said it is crucial to maintain programs to help businesses to the other side of the pandemic

Most Read