Following a year that saw increased tensions in Bloomington-Normal between police and minorities, an event designed to help community members experience what police officers encounter every day did not appear to attract any more interest than past years. But, the third annual Behind the Badge event at Horton Field House at Illinois State University seemed to leave a lasting impression for those who attended. The event was sponsored by police agencies, Illinois State University and the Minority and Police Partnership (MAPP).
The event featured various simulated situations including a traffic stop, knife attack, even a chance to drive a golf cart wearing beer goggles but by far the most popular was the Shoot or Don’t Shoot video simulator. Lifelong Bloomington resident Dominique Stevenson, who is black and performs as a Hip Hop Artist, experienced three different situations and fired his gun in all three. A training officer said all three shootings would have been justified but in one case, a police body cam would have helped clear Stevenson of wrongdoing because he shot at a hostile employee who reached for what turned out to be a stapler.
Stevenson shouted commands, "Show me your hands, show me your hands!" When a suspicious employee in the workplace scenario picks up a stapler and lunges, he is shot twice in the head. Stevenson felt his life was threatened and admits officers need to make tough calls. "You have to keep your nerves under control. You have to be patient because you don't know exactly what you're going into." He adds, "Once your adrenaline gets pumping, you could make a rash decision but it would be a costly one."
Stevenson and his brother recently attended a minority police recruiting event at Mt. Pisgah Church in Bloomington and were convinced they need to get behind the badge in real life. "We want to make a difference in the community and diversify the stations a little more and bridge the gap between the misconception of the community as well as in law enforcement." He wants unity instead of black empowerment. "I think a lot of people make that mistake in trying to just strengthen the black community but I feel like if we strengthen as a people and as a community, then that's where we'll find the greatest success."
Harder Than It Looks
Other residents learned that even what appears to be more routine tasks on the beat are not always as they seem. Heartland Community College Criminal Justice students Tristan Toney and Angel Chadez were surprised at how difficult it was to handcuff someone with even the least amount of resistance. "They make it look really easy on TV but when I had to handcuff him [his friend Angel], it was much more difficult than I thought," said Toney.
Participants also had a chance to ask questions about policies. Nancy Marciniec of Bloomington asked Sargent Rob Kosack of BPD what kind of situations warrant officers use a taser gun. "Active resistance by the subject. A lot of times someone is fighting." But he added, "You wouldn't do it when someone is fleeing anymore because if someone is running, you have to be concerned about the surface they're on and are they going to fall to the ground and get hurt." He clarified, "Basically you would use it on any situation where someone is actively resisting to the point it would require an officer to run up and tackle that person."
Bloomington Police Chief Brendan Heffner was disappointed the turnout wasn't better given his efforts to reach out and talk with any community group which asks. When asked if Black Lives Matter members had showed he said, "I think I saw a couple." Heffner point out later this year his officers will get to experience more simulated situations for enhanced training. The budget approved Monday by the city council includes purchase of a simulator because Heffren successfully made the case that scenario-based training allows officers to learn de-escalation and proper use of force.