I found myself in a dark hallway, waiting for the elevator doors to open. I felt the cold steel of a pistol in my hands.
The elevator doors opened and revealed a man wrapping his arms around the neck of another man and holding a gun to his head.
“Drop the weapon! Drop the weapon!” I shouted.
“I’ll kill him!” he responded, and I pulled the trigger.
In a matter of six seconds, I had to decide whether to shoot. I took five and a half too many.
And I accidentally hit the hostage.
Luckily for me — and for the innocent man in the elevator — the gun I had was outfitted with a laser, not bullets, and the people in the elevator were just projections on a whiteboard.
Thursday afternoon, the Division of Public Safety hosted the fifth annual “Shoot/Don’t Shoot” tutorial to give students a condensed version of police officer firearm training.
While TV shows make it seem like cops have “mental telepathy” and know exactly when to pull out their guns, Vice President for Public Safety Maureen Rush said real life is much less cut-and-dry.
“The reality of being a police officer on the street in any city, any town is that you never know who is a criminal,” she said.
As a result, police officers — including the 116 sworn Penn Police officers — must go through a rigorous, 520-hour training process that gives them not only knowledge on laws regarding when to use force but also the practice to be able to make less-than-split-second decisions.
DPS hosted a group of 12 students from the Fox Leadership Program to give them a taste of what it’s like to be in the shoes of an officer in the field. After a presentation by Rush and other DPS officials, we were led into a dark room with a projector. A uniformed officer gave a gun — which was re-fitted for training purposes — to the first student in the tutorial, who stepped up in front of the screen.
The officer said the student was responding to a vandalism call. Video on the screen showed a man striking a car, knife in hand.
“Put the knife down and walk toward me,” the student said repeatedly.
“I’m not going to put the knife down,” the video replied. After stalling for about 30 seconds, the man lunged forward. “This is bullshit,” he shouted as three pops went off and he staggered down against the car.
The tension in the room — even just looking on — was palpable, although it was just a simulation.
“I was totally into it,” College junior Mia Garuccio said. “I thought it was so realistic.”
She said the tutorial gave her a new appreciation for the stress of being a cop.
“It was cool to be able to go through what they do to get an idea of how prepared they are,” she added.
As for me — just hope I’m never entrusted with rescuing you from an elevator.