PDT Staff Writer
Does a law enforcement officer have more than a split second to decide if a suspect is brandishing a weapon? Can an officer blow through a red light in pursuit of a subject suspected of a crime? The answer to both questions is no, but that’s where training comes in and over a three-day period this week, the Ohio Peace Officers Training Academy, through the office of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, put members of the Scioto County Sheriff’s Office through two simulators to experience just such scenarios.
“The training is different from other training that we do,” Scioto County Sheriff Marty V. Donini said. “It’s not actually in a classroom, so I think it motivates the employee. But more importantly, these two units (driving and shooting) that we’re using today are probably giving training to our employees in using the two most important pieces of equipment that they use every day - and that is the vehicle and the weapon.”
Donini said the simulators are not so much about how to use the weapon physically, but how to engage the use of the brain in the process - when to use the weapon, and maybe more importantly, when not to use the weapon.
“We don’t look necessarily at the physical shooting the weapon,” Wayne Dumolt, a certified law enforcement training officer with OPOTA in London, Ohio, said. “We’re looking at the mental judgment of when do I shoot? and before I use any level force. We’re looking at training the mind more so than the body at this point.”
Detectives Dan Malone and Denver Triggs were put through several scenarios in which they had to make lethal decisions in an immeasurably short time span. After each scenario there was a debriefing period with Dumolt. It was a similar circumstance at the driving simulator.
“It’s a Judgmental Driving Simulator,” Scott Mann, law enforcement training officer with OPOTA, said. “We’re not there to make the officer an expert driver by any means. Nothing beats the real thing. This is more entailed to getting them to think while they are in an emergency response or in a pursuit. It’s getting them to think about certain situations that they would be put in, like going through intersections. It’s getting them to think about situations in which they have to clear intersection properly and do all that stuff in order to work safely and effectively.”
Mann said officers can’t simply run a red light, but must utilize “due regard.”
“We have to make sure everybody sees us in that intersection, even if we have a red light,” Mann said. “We have to make sure everybody sees us before we pull through that intersection. We’re asking permission to go through that intersection when our lights and sirens are on.”
Donini said his officers are being reminded of the caution needed when in a pursuit.
“The feedback I’m getting from employees who go through the driving simulator is how important it is to slow down when you go through intersections,” Donini said. “You need to almost stop, especially in cities where there’s a lot of traffic because the liability comes back on you. If you’ve got a red light and you’re running lights and siren, and you blow that red light, and you hit somebody, you’re liable. The officer is liable and the county is liable. And you’re not doing any good if you don’t get there.”
One of the most frequently asked questions in that regard is - When do you suspend a high speed chase because of the safety of the public?
“I’d say a lot of that is situational,” Mann said. “Generally, when officers are in pursuit, they have supervisors they are in contact with over a radio or something like that, asking questions. Traffic conditions; roadway conditions; location - whether it’s rural or residential. All of those things have to be taken into consideration before you either continue with the pursuit or terminate it.”
Donini said the training simulators were paid for out of the state’s portion of the casino money.
OPOTA currently has seven simulators, three in Richfield and four in London, which are used to cover all the departments in the state.
Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 252, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. For breaking news, follow Frank on Twitter @FrankLewisPDT.