|Courtesy: Chattooga AM1180|
On Thursday, April 28, 2016, AM1180 employees, Bonnie Kinnamont and Kelly Jones had the opportunity to attend a gun simulator course at Georgia Northwestern Technical College’s Calhoun campus. Accompanied by Sheriff Mark Schrader and Chattooga County Sheriff’s Department Communications Officer Josh Powell, Bonnie and Kelly experienced first hand what it’s like to be in a dangerous, high stress environment while having to make decisions in a split second.
The simulator is the same one used by Georgia Northwestern Technical College to train students going through the Basic Law Enforcement Academy at the college’s Gordon County Campus. Typically, a graduate from a police academy will undergo 10-11 weeks of education and training. However, Georgia Northwestern Technical College has a 22-week program that prepares students physically, legally, mentally and arms them with the knowledge necessary to be able to handle any situation they may experience in the field.
Program Director of the Basic Law Enforcement Academy, James Pledger, led the course walking Bonnie and Kelly through a series of interactive videos subjecting the women to real life situations encountered by officers on a daily basis. The Gun Simulator is equipped with a large screen on which the interactive scenario is projected via an overhead projector. Students are given a .45 caliber pistol equipped with a laser that communicates with the software. The pistol is an actual gun without the firing mechanism, allowing the student to experience what it’s like to use their service weapon realistically.
With hundreds of scenarios, Pledger selected a video encouraging Bonnie and Kelly to communicate with the individuals on screen and be prepared to decide what they would do when immersed in the situation just like a police officer.
With the lights off, the screen acts as a virtual reality experience placing the women in a variety of real life scenarios. The first is a school setting. Moving through the hallways, commotion can be heard as a classroom is approached. Upon entry, Bonnie encounters a teenage boy with a gun to his temple, two students lay facedown on the ground at the young man’s feet. The young man begins yelling at Bonnie as she tries to calm him down. The male student becomes increasingly agitated as Bonnie continues to tell him to put the gun down and calm down.
Before Bonnie is even able to react, the student turns the gun on her and pulls the trigger. In shock, she stares at the screen wondering how in the world this happened so quickly. The video stops and the Pledger explains how in a situation where a threat is clearly present and individuals are already injured or dead, discharging your weapon to neutralize the threat is justified. The experience shows how quickly an officer has to judge a situation and be able to react in order to neutralize that threat and eliminate the endangerment of others.
The next video is a traffic stop on a dirt road. The vehicle occupant emerges visibly angry that he’s been pulled over. He begins throwing his hands up and yelling at the officer (Bonnie Kinnamont) to leave him alone and bother someone else. Bonnie tells him to calm down but the man turns reaches in his vehicle and as he begins to point a gun at Bonnie, she discharges her weapon shooting the man. The scenario illustrates how quickly an ordinary traffic stop can turn life threatening. Once again, it is the duty of these men and women who serve in the Police Force to neutralize the threat in an effort to not only protect civilians but themselves as well.
Next, Kelly picks up the gun and stands in front of the screen. The scene is behind a store with what looks like a man trying to break into an SUV. Approaching the man, Kelly asks him to step away from the vehicle to which he calmly responds, “Oh no, it’s okay. It’s my car.” Again, Kelly asks him to step away so they can verify it is indeed his vehicle and the man explains that he’s locked his keys in the car in the ignition. At this point, it’s clear he’s becoming irritated as he walks to the back of the vehicle. You can hear something drop and he comes back around the corner but now he has a gun pointed at Kelly. She shoots instinctively eliminating the threat. An interaction that began calmly quickly turned deadly and the ability to react quickly is imperative in the situation.
Kelly’s next scene is in another school where students are scattered through the hallways. A girl’s scream can be heard as you see her with her face in the corner, hands covering the sides of her head. Barely visible, a young man points a gun around the corner, Kelly instinctively fires as the video halts. The speed with which everything played out is unimaginable. The threat presented and the fear of hitting the young lady standing dangerously to the threat is overwhelming.
Going through several more scenarios, it’s clear that the environments and situations that the members of the police force are subjected to on a daily basis can rage from your typical traffic stop to a domestic violence situation to a high stress environment such as a school shooting. The ability to diffuse a situation with clear, concise thinking and quick decision making skills is of the utmost importance. These officers walk into these situations every single day not knowing what the outcome may be.
The last scenario is another school. Students are pouring from a classroom as Bonnie intently tries to gauge where the shooting is coming from. Students are already face down in the hallway injured or dead as more students pour from the doorway. It’s overwhelming not knowing which student is the source of all this chaos. The last student to emerge from the door is a young boy, he looks to be about 10 or 11, dark hair and tan skin. A gun hangs by his side in his hand, his face full of misery as he looks at the officer and says, “I’m sorry, I didn’t want to do it…” The gun is pointed in the officer’s face before she even realizes it as the young man pulls the trigger. Frozen, she stares at the screen.
It’s difficult not to be emotional seeing such a young person in such a terrible situation. Your heart aches wanting to be able to fix it for this young man but as an officer who has sworn to protect and serve, it is that Officer’s sole responsibility to neutralize that threat to ensure no one else is killed or hurt. It’s heartbreaking to know these men and women have to deal with these situations every single day but it sheds light on the reality of what they are faced with and the decisions they have to make in order to ensure protection.
Being able to experience the Gun Simulator really gives a higher level of appreciation and respect to the individuals who put on that uniform every single day and patrol our streets. It’s difficult to even imagine being in their shoes, especially after the simulator. As a mother, a daughter, a friend, I have no idea what I would do. If encountered with these situations in real life, could I make the decision necessary to protect others or would I freeze in fear like I did in front of that screen?
The Gun Simulator helps to shine a light on the reality of a day in the life of a police officer. The experience leaves one with a renewed respect and completely different outlook on these men and women who put themselves in the line of danger on a daily basis. With a new outlook and great respect, we appreciate each and every one of the members of our Local Law Enforcement.