Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Shoot, Don't Shoot

By Beth Terrell

Last week, our FBI/TBI Citizen Academy met at the TBI headquarters in Madison. We got to tour the mobile command center, the mobile forensics unit, and the anti-drug display vehicle. Then we toured the fusion center and the crime lab and listened to a talk on crime scene investigation by Special Agent Dan Royse. It was full of good information for a writer, and even though my pen was racing on the page, I still didn't manage to get it all down. The talk ended too soon, but there was no time to be disappointed, because next we went to the mock crime scene he and Special Agent Mike Breedlove had staged in the mail room. I didn't participate in solving the crime, because it was almost the same scene they set up for us at Killer Nashville last August , so I got to help pass out record sheets and talk to Mike about some of his most memorable cases.

Next up, we chatted with the agents specializing in drug enforcement and cybercrimes, and finally we got to try our hands at the Shoot/Don't Shoot simulator. (Well, I wasn't brave enough to try it, but several of my classmates did.) Here's how it works. There's a big screen, about the size of my living room wall. About fifteen feet away is a square drawn on the floor. You stand in the square holding a laser gun; when you point the laser at the screen and pull the trigger, the program registers when and where your virtual bullet would have hit, and the person on the screen responds by either falling down dead or killing you. The object is to decide whether or not to fire your weapon and, if you do have to fire, to act quickly enough to save your own life and the lives of potential victims. (It's also probably not a good idea to shoot the victims by accident, but that didn't happen to anybody in our class.)

You also talk to the person being shown on the screen. The first scenario showed a traffic stop. The camera was set up to show the perspective of the officer approaching the car, a blue sedan with a middle-aged man behind the wheel. "Sir," the agent demonstrating the procedure said to the screen, "I need to see your license and registration." The man in the car attempts to engage the agent in conversation. Then we see a gun in his lap. His hand is touching the grip. The agent says, "Sir, move your hand away from the gun. Do not touch the gun in your lap." The driver continues to try to distract the agent, who continues to warn him not to touch the gun. Suddenly, the driver jerks the gun up and fires at the agent. The agent shoots his laser gun, and a message comes up saying that he has used lethal force; please secure his firearm and report to his superior for debriefing. Then the picture comes back up, but time, it shows little red Xs where the agent's bullets hit.

It was interesting to see the different scenarios and how the agent's decision to shoot or not shoot just a moment too late could have disastrous results (as when the perpetrator bludgeoned a woman to death before one of my fellow students could bring herself to pull the trigger). The need for constant vigilance was reinforced when a supposed victim grabbed the "dead" perpetrator's gun and turned it on the agent.

It was a fascinating experience and gave me a new appreciation for how quick-thinking our agents have to be. If they hesitate for even a moment, a life could be lost. If they overreact for even a moment, a life could be lost.

Many thanks to the agents and officers who risk their lives every day to keep the rest of us safe.


Jean Henry Mead said...

I envy you your trip, Beth. What a great experience for a mystery writer!

Mark W. Danielson said...

Sounds like a great experience, Beth. Police and law enforcement officers aren't the only ones faced with the shoot/no shoot decision. Every member of the armed forces is faced with this same situation day in/day out, and the ramifications of their decisions can greatly affect international diplomacy and enemy sympathy. In many ways, our rules of engagement place soldiers and fighter pilots in harms way because they give the advantage to the enemy. (Don't fire unless fired upon.) Considering that most of our ground soldiers are young, they do a remarkable job.