College of LAS « Illinois

Seminar puts participants in police shoes

Role play scenarios help to explore the complicated topic of lethal force

About two dozen faculty, students, and activists, authors, police chiefs, university officials, and journalists explored the issue of police shootings during the Boeschenstein Seminar on Public Policy, hosted by the Cline Center for Democracy at Illinois.
About two dozen faculty, students, and activists, authors, police chiefs, university officials, and journalists explored the issue of police shootings during the Boeschenstein Seminar on Public Policy, hosted by the Cline Center for Democracy at Illinois.
For a moment, put yourself in a police officer’s shoes: You arrive at a warehouse where a man is hunting his estranged wife with a gun. As you rush around a corner, you hear a gunshot and see a woman on the floor. The killer sees you, drops his weapon immediately, and says that he’s glad he did it.

Do you shoot?

This is one situation that people were asked to consider during the recent Boeschenstein Seminar on Public Policy, hosted by the Cline Center for Democracy at Illinois. The seminar, assisted by the U of I’s Police Training Institute, included opportunities to participate in shoot/don’t shoot use-of-force role play scenarios, where participants faced simulations of real crime scenarios.

According to the Cline Center, the seminar was intended to “explore one of the most contentious and poorly-documented issues facing the United States today: police uses of lethal force, post-incident outcomes, and community reactions to these events.”

On the seminar’s first day, the participants—including about two dozen faculty, students, and journalists, along with authors, human rights activists,  university officials, and police chiefs from outside the Urbana-Champaign area—met to discuss the intricacies of lethal force in police encounters and the circumstances in which officers are allowed to use it.

On the second day, participants engaged in simulations normally faced by third-month police officers in training. Participants went to training buildings at the University of Illinois Willard Airport, where they were equipped with full-face helmets and Airsoft guns and placed in scenarios acted out by other officers, some of whom were armed with guns that were loaded with blank rounds to create the sound of gunfire.

The participants acted as police officers answering calls of potentially violent scenarios, and were tasked with deciding mid-simulation whether they can use lethal force to protect others or themselves.  The previously described scenario was one that the participants were presented with. One participant, Lesley Wexler, a professor of law at Illinois, described the immense pressure she felt as she experienced this mentally harrowing simulation—even though she was aware that it was only a simulation.

The seminar included role play scenarios where participants engaged in simulations of real-life crime scenarios.
The seminar included role play scenarios where participants engaged in simulations of real-life crime scenarios.
“I was shocked that the victim was already shot, scared for myself, and my adrenaline was pumping,” Wexler said. “I knew that the shooter didn't have anything in his hand, but I shot him anyway. As soon as I was done and the trainer asked what I thought, I said, ‘I shot both too late and too early. I should have been faster to save the victim and I shouldn't have shot once the threat was over.’”

Other simulations involved a potential car thief who brandished a knife, dropped it out of sight and then began to approach the participant with their hands up, and a domestic dispute where participants tried to save a woman in a house from a perpetrator who had broken down the door.  The simulations were designed to test the participants’ ability to quickly analyze a situation and act appropriately—and demonstrate the pressure faced by real officers in the line of duty.

Wexler said that the simulation confirmed her belief that communities need to be incredibly careful in choosing who becomes a police officer, and that communities should also provide adequate funding for extensive police training. She also felt that people should be more aware of de-escalation techniques so we need fewer calls to 911 in the first place.

Logan Weeter
6/8/2017

Related Topics

  • Cline Center for Democracy
  • Outreach