The Illinois Fraternal Order of Police is traveling the state inviting individuals, elected officials, and the media to engage in various simulations of use-of-force scenarios so they can experience the split-second decision-making officers encounter.
The effort, called Project Blue Life, is to counter anti-police sentiment following highly publicized police shootings across the country. In particular, the Illinois FOP is still stinging from the repercussions of LaQuan McDonald's fatal shooting in Chicago. The union believes the shooting was justified and disagrees with the nearly seven-year prison sentence for officer Jason VanDyke, who shot the teenager 16 times.
At the McLean County Law and Justice Center on Tuesday, McLean County Sheriff Jon Sandage introduced trainer Terry Trueblood, a trustee with the Illinois police union. Trueblood gave a 15-minute presentation before attendees could try the simulated scenarios designed to let them experience the moments when officers have to decide whether to fire their gun.
“You’ll have the opportunity to be in the blue life,” said Trueblood.
He explained the physical limitations officers experience when they are under stress, including loss of precise motor skills, loss of near vision, tunnel vision, and increased heart and respiration.
But Trueblood said officers are trained repeatedly for what he calls "stress inoculation," which allows police to overcome the average person’s flight-or-fight tendency that kicks in under stressful situations.
“We try to train that out of them so they don’t have that natural reaction or at least it's minimized so they can react better, quicker, faster and more effectively,” he said.
Reaction From Participants
Several McLean County Board members participated in the simulated scenarios, including Chuck Erickson, who joked after one situation, “I need to go get my heart checked out.”
Following one video vignette, Erickson was congratulated for doing better than almost any civilian so far. He shot a person coming out of a shed three times when the man emerged pointing a gun directly at him.
Erickson acknowledged he wasn’t 100% sure it was a gun but he had less than a second to react. He told WGLT he believes officers can have implicit bias, but in high-stress situations in which someone might have a weapon, he's convinced there’s no time to factor that in.
“I think that’s a different scenario because you don’t have time to run through black, white, this nationality or that nationality; you’re thinking automatically,” he said.
Logan Smith, who is the youngest elected official in McLean County having been elected to the county board at age 19 last year, said he agrees with Erickson. In fact, when he was asked by the trainer after his initial scenario, Smith said he struggled to remember his shooter was white.
Board member Lyndsay Bloomfield joked before her turn at the simulation that she had an advantage because she just played the video game “Deer Hunter." The experience convinced her trainers are spot on about brain science which shows memories of a traumatic event don’t return until someone has experienced two full sleep cycles.
“I can’t remember anything about the last scene. I think I survived,” she said.
McLean County Board Vice Chairman Jim Soeldner said he learned a lesson.
“If you’re going to carry that gun, you better be prepared to use it because both times I didn’t fire my gun so I was dead times two," he said.
Soeldner also thinks a video game that offers an experience such as what he went through Tuesday night might help the average person understand the challenge of making split second, life-or-death decisions.
“When you’re dealing with people who aren’t criminals, next-door neighbors, people who broke into a shed, yeah it’s a good idea to see, 'How would I react?'"
Sheriff Jon Sandage said his officers receive "adequate" training but he added, “Would more training be beneficial? Absolutely."
"Training is difficult with a department our size because you still have to have staffing to work the roads, but you can never have too much training," he said.
According to Sandage, his deputies go to the range quarterly and some training involves simulation. Officers also must be recertified every year to carry their firearm.
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