By Joe Gorman
Police often have to make split-second decisions that can reverberate for years, so training to make those decisions faster is key.
That was the goal Tuesday at the old Sheridan Elementary School as members of the city police department took part in simulations of shooting and driving situations. The training was conducted by the Ohio Peace Officers Training Academy through the Ohio Attorney General’s office.
Capt. Kevin Mercer said 96 of the department’s officers signed up for the training, including all members of the patrol and vice divisions as well as some in the detective division, and all officers who have police dogs.
The training also will continue today. This week’s training is in addition to mandatory training all officers have to take, and Mercer said it was provided free the attorney general’s office. He also said the school district allowed the department to use the school property for free.
Patrol officers Phil Skowron and Hannah Banks were two who took part in shooting scenarios in a classroom. Through a video screen, the officers ran through several scenarios, including a school shooting, a burglary suspect in a maze of shelves in a hospital pharmacy, and a traffic stop with a belligerent suspect who threatens police and then reaches in the cab of his pickup truck for a shotgun before he is shot by the officers.
When each scenario is concluded, Mike Golec of OPATA and a police officer for Goshen Township, talks through some of the things the officers did, asks them why they made the decisions they made and what if anything would they do different.
Golec said the purpose of the training is to give officers a different set of options in each scenario so they will be used to having to process information to make quick decisions even faster.
“They’ll continue to think about these things, and they’ll be able to make split-second decisions a little faster,” Golec said.
Banks, who has been with the department for a year, said the training was “very interesting.”
“It makes us look at the situations we encounter every day and judge them accordingly,” Banks said.
In the driving scenario, Joan Bauer of OPATA, who has been a police officer for 24 years, was one of the instructors. One of her main tips was telling the officers to “steer to the rear,” or where a vehicle they were in close contact with, had been.
Bauer said that in those situations, most people swerve to the left out of reflex, which often leads to serious collisions. By steering where a vehicle had once been, they would either miss the vehicle altogether or hit the vehicle in the rear, where there is lesser chance of serious injury.
“Steer to where he’s been, not where he’s going,” Bauer said.
Officers trained on a computer mockup of a standard Ford Crown Victoria and drove through business and residential districts. She also told the officers to concentrate on clearing traffic by lanes rather than by intersections, because ignoring individual lanes can lead to more accidents. She also encouraged them to change the frequencies on their sirens, to make their vehicle stand out during a pursuit to others and themselves. She said often officers can become numb to the sound of their own or a colleague’s siren and that can lead to a crash.
“A lot of it [training] is reminders,” Bauer said.
Officers practiced scenarios of responding to calls and also pursuits. Vice officers Mike Quinn and Jimmy Hughes Jr. both said the scenario was realistic, but did cause some dizziness because while the simulator gave the impression of movement, they were not really going anywhere.