Originally published October 3, 2016
Baltimore is one of the nation’s most violent cities and being such, police officers face more stressful situations. To better understand how the officers cope with them, a recent Baltimore grand jury put themselves in the shoes of Baltimore cops through the lethal force simulator.
The simulator mimicked scenarios law enforcement officers confront, including a person trying to commit “suicide by cop” and a call for an aggravated domestic assault.
Below is an example of a lethal force simulator:
After being placed in the simulator, these comments were made by the grand jury according to The Baltimore Sun’s report:
“As members of the grand jury, our perceptions of police officers have changed after this visit.”
“Many of us were born and raised in this urban Baltimore environment and have always held a negative opinion of police officers.”
“Society has beaten these men and women down. We no longer consider them ‘officer friendly’, and now, we can understand why.”
“For those of us who participated, we agreed that we were actually nervous about using our firearm. Each time, we contemplated whether we should use our gun or not, but we surely did not want to be harmed ourselves.”
“We realized at that moment that we did not do as well as we would have liked. That experience made us consider that in many cases, police officers really do not have much time to think, especially in life-threatening active situations where a hostage may be in danger.”
“Police officers are often faced with situations that require split-second decision making, and as we are all aware, any decision could cost a life, erupt civil unrest, damage careers and/or impel jail time.”
As the national debate about police accountability is ongoing and activists call for civilians to be placed on local boards that review police conduct, many law enforcement officials have suggested that everyday citizens ought to get a taste of what the police officers are going through, just like what the jurors have experienced.
Activists wanted civilians to participate because they believe it is the only way to ensure accountability as the officers protect one another.
This idea of civilians joining the board was agreed to by state Sen. Catherine Pugh, the Democratic nominee for mayor. She plans to push for legislation that would allow civilian participation regardless of police union agreement.
“I know the FOP will not be happy with that,” Pugh told an audience at United Evangelical Church in Canton last week. “But until we allow participation by individuals who live in our communities, we will not get the coordination that we need.”
Police officials and their proponents say police officers need to make instantaneous life-or-death decisions and should be honored for risking their lives in the interest of public safety.
Activists, however, argue that officers are too quick to shoot especially when the person they are dealing with is black. They say officers are not held accountable when they commit mistakes or abuse their power.
But this can be answered by the grand juror’s report that says, “Police officers are often faced with situations that require split-second decision making, and as we are all aware, any decision could cost a life, erupt civil unrest, damage careers and/or impel jail time.”
After experiencing the lethal force simulator, jurors came away with the belief that officers in Baltimore are “overwhelmed, overworked and underpaid,” according to the report.
They understand that Baltimore’s police face more heinous crimes than before because criminals are becoming more “vicious and fearless.” They encounter different scenarios every day that somehow affects their mental health. They require time and space to breath.
The grand jury acknowledged their need for more routine and mandatory mental health screenings, an end to 12-hour shifts, and flexible leave usage. Police departments are confronting staff shortages and long work hours as well as restrictions regarding time off. The jurors see these things as factors that “create high stress compounded with an already stressful environment and could cause even minor issues to become explosive.”
They also acknowledged that officers are “tired and afraid for their own safety and security,” and need “real support from the top that will someday trickle down into the communities and change the mindsets of each one of us civilians.”
They recommend an increased pay “and improved working conditions” for all police and corrections officers, “aggressive campaigning” to hire more police and corrections officers, and “statewide recognition and sincere appreciation towards our officers who daily risk their lives.”
This is not the first time this has occurred. Many years ago, then Los Angeles Sheriff Sherman Block did much the same with politicians and the media. They too came away illuminated, as have many members participating in citizen police academies around the country. If only we could bottle it, and make the revelations last.