Aiming for Answers 3: a look at the purpose of law enforcement training and how situations can escalate

Published: Dec. 7, 2022 at 8:31 PM CST
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - Monday, Your News Leader began our three-part series “Aiming for Answers.” Reporter Erika Craven brought us along as she learned what law enforcement officers do to train for life-or-death situations. First, she learned the basics of handling a firearm and clearing a room. Then, she was put through two simulated scenarios modeled on real-life situations North Dakota officers have found themselves in. Now, she’s discovering if she’s learned from her mistakes.

All the equipment in the world and hours and hours of training can’t always prepare you for a situation you have never encountered.

Erika learned that lesson after she was shot in her first training run. And again, when she accidentally shot an innocent person during the second encounter. She had panicked.

“Every time you go to a door, you have no idea what’s on the other side. You don’t know if there’s three people in there or one person or if they have guns or if they don’t have guns, how they are going to react to you. But that’s real life,” a BCI agent told Erika.

She said she hoped the third call would be different. It was a 9-1-1 hang-up with no other information.

“Oh, there’s a gun. Can I call for backup please?” Erika said as she looked inside the door.

She didn’t want to enter the room alone. And she didn’t want to shoot.

But her hesitation to take control of the situation led to another tragedy.

“Well, it was a big deal to try to figure out whether I needed to have the gun out ready or if that would make the situation worse. Because you don’t want to have a gun in someone’s face if they aren’t doing anything wrong, you know,” Erika said.

The next call involved a suspicious person trying to get into apartments. He fired a gun, turned, and fled.

“You would have shot him in the back. Would you have been justified? Yeah, he was shooting at you, but how does that look? To the media?” said an agent.

“To the general public when you see cops shooting people in the back?” said another agent.

“Yeah, it’s not great,” Erika responded.

Finally, she was called to a convenience store.

“There is a gentleman inside with a knife,” said the agent detailing the scenario.

“Hey Frank, I just want to talk to you,” she said.

After a short interaction, the actor turned the knife from himself to Erika.

“Shoot me,” said the actor as he lunged at her.

“I don’t want to shoot you Frank! Sorry!” Erika said as she shot him.

Erika says she learned that her communication skills weren’t up to the task. In each scenario, she wanted more information, more time, and backup.

“Obviously, I was not an expert by the end. But I think I corrected some of the mistakes I made early on. But then there was also a double-edged sword, so I was primed to act in a certain way. It was a learning experience, that’s for sure,” Erika said.

“You have to train, train, train, to serve the public as best as you can,” said an agent.

Agents say the simulated scenario training helps them hone their reactions.

Erika learned it’s better to make mistakes in practice than in real life.