DENVER (CBS4) – Police officers in Denver are getting some very realistic training to help them handle difficult emergency situations.
The Denver Police Department recently started paying professional actors to play the role of suspects in scenarios based on real crisis situations.
A CBS4 crew was invited to the Denver Police Academy to get a look at how officers are trained to face armed suspects who may be determined to hurt themselves or others.
The scenario started with a briefing:
“You are dispatched to 4950 Morrison Road, Unit 2 on a drunk party wanting to commit suicide by cop.”
As officers approached they saw actor Vernon Hysaw. In the training he played a distraught veteran they call “John.” He was holding a weapon underneath his chin.
The officers shouted, “Gun! He’s got a gun!”
But then Officer Steve Sloan, who took the lead in the training, introduced himself.
“My name is Steve. What is your name?” he says. The actor responds, “John.”
Sloan then asked a series of open-ended questions trying to keep the man talking.
“Why do you want to hurt yourself today, John?”
John said he was a member of the military and was “tired of not getting any respect.”
“I got to be honest John,” Sloan said. “I feel like I’m disrespecting you right now because I’m having to talk and point my gun at you. But I can’t put mine away until you put yours down.”
After more coaxing, the actor dropped his weapon.
In real life, scenarios like that don’t always end with a peaceful resolution. In the past decade DPD has had more than 50 officer-involved shootings.
The DPD Crisis Intervention Team has taken bits and pieces from those actual incidents to create realistic training scenarios.
After the scenario, Officer Sloan’s colleagues critiqued his performance.
Officer Wilbur Murray was pleased with Sloan’s ability to get the suspect to drop his gun.
“Any day I go home and I don’t fire my weapon is a great day,” Murray said.
Technician Lisa Love, who was flanking Sloan during the drill, said keeping the suspect talking was key.
“Sometimes quiet is not our friend,” Love said. “The only way we can help them is if they keep talking they are sharing what their problem is.”
Sloan said his goal was to build a personal connection, and explained that he stayed away from certain phrases that tend to set people off such as “Oh, I understand.” or “I’ve been there.”
“If you haven’t been there these are things you really shouldn’t say,” Sloan said.
Training Sgt. Michael Vogler said it’s never a good idea to challenge a suspect with chiding them on to just do it, or jump already.
“It makes for very exciting television,” Vogler explained. “The reality is that being confrontational at that point is not going to be helpful.”
Negotiating is a skill. In some ways, it’s counterintuitive. Officers need to be able to show empathy while at the same time be ready to take a life, if necessary.
“They genuinely care that this man survives today, despite the fact that we might have our weapons deployed at the same time,” Vogler said.
To date, 74 percent of DPD patrol officers have taken part in the 40-hour Crisis Intervention Training.
Denver police say the use of trained actors brings a degree of realism.
You might recognize some of the actors they use. Some have done commercial work, others have had roles in popular TV shows.
– By Mark Ackerman, CBSDenver.com