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PALM LATITUDES

STATE OF MIND : The Most Dangerous Game

January 09, 1994|Michael Tenneson

My partner and I are approaching a stolen pickup in a Downtown parking structure when the door of its camper shell suddenly flies open and a large man sits up, aims a shotgun at me and starts firing. My heart pumping, I raise my revolver and return fire. My shots miss. His don't.

No, this is not a fax from heaven, it's a report on the Simulator, a $62,000 interactive, computer-monitored training tool used by the Los Angeles Police Academy and most other big-city police departments. Cadets use laser "guns" to fire at life-size perpetrators on a huge rear-projection video screen. By monitoring the accuracy and legality of the shots, it provides a way to grade cadets on their understanding of LAPD use-of-force guidelines, which allow an officer to fire a gun only in the "immediate defense of life."

But as I found out, with perps firing "bullets" at you, making those decisions requires extraordinary cool. "Five misses, no hits," Officer Don Kiefer tells me after my performance with the pickup. "Keep your eye on that front sight."

Scenario 2: My partner and I are patrolling a shopping center when we spot a young man trying to break into an ATM. The felon responds by first pulling a knife, then tossing it aside and pulling out a gun. I get off five rounds before he gets off any. The Simulator tells me my first shot was through the felon's heart, the rest went through his left shoulder. I want to quit (this is too real to be fun), but Kiefer wants me to do one more.

Scenario 3: We are walking through a park when a kid rushes up to report a strange man trying to abduct his friend. Approaching, we see a man about 45 dragging a small boy out of the park. When the man sees us, he reaches into his back pocket and quickly pulls out . . . his wallet! My gun's up, but I don't shoot. "Good going!" says Kiefer. "You did well."

The thought crosses my mind that I would rather take the chance of shooting an innocent man than having a guilty one shoot me. Cops aren't allowed to make that choice.

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