Above: One of these guns is real, one is the most high-tech laser tag gun you’ve ever held.

For my first assignment as an officer with LoCOPD, I was sent to a nondescript suburban house on a report of domestic violence. Upon hearing screaming inside, I entered the home through the already open front door. Once inside I was confronted by a loud, violent and somewhat-physical dispute taking place between an erratic woman in tears and a combative man cradling an infant under one arm.

Timidly and awkwardly I attempted to defuse the situation. I told the man to put down the baby and informed the woman that her actions really weren’t helping. This was my first crack at such an assignment. Maybe I should’ve spoken more authoritatively.

For whatever reason, my presence further agitated the man, who eventually picked up a rolling pin from the counter and charged at me swinging. I pulled my gun and shot him in the upper torso, missing the child. He dropped to the floor and the baby landed softly on his now motionless chest. The wailing mother picked the baby up. Then the screen went black.

Thus ended my first tour of duty on College of the Redwoods’ state-of-the-art Force Option Simulator (FOS), a realistic, high-def video scenario generator featuring live actors, laser-emitting firearms and a whole lotta drama.

“You did pretty well,” EPD officer Drake Goodale told me — he’s one of the instructors trained to operate the system. I was told that, all things considered, I’d acted appropriately in executing lethal force on the baby-carrying father.

“That’s what we call a crap sandwich,” Goodale said of the grim scenario I’d participated in.

The Eureka Police Department’s public information team had graciously extended an invitation to local media for an opportunity to experience one of the more high-tech tools being used to train officers for dangerous, real-world situations. This latest system, acquired only in the last few months and housed at the College of the Redwoods Administration of Justice Program/Law Enforcement Training Center, was gifted to the school by the State of California. It’s worth about $150,000. 

While LoCO most certainly was impressed and tickled by the smoothness of the program — it was fun, OK? — our instructors stressed how seriously they take the trainings. Our presentation began with a Powerpoint list of officers recently killed by gunfire in the line of duty. The list was set to a bagpipe-led version of “Amazing Grace.” Local law enforcement takes this stuff seriously. 

“At the end of the day, having to use deadly force is the least desired outcome,” said another of our instructors, EPD Sergeant Steve Watson. “Everyone would like to be in a situation where it deescalates.”

And the potential for deescalation exists within the simulations. Each scenario has within it multiple potential branches which are controlled by a nearby instructor plopped at a computer monitor. Based on an officer’s verbal commands and actions, the instructor may remotely control the onscreen actor’s decision to submit to authority, as the elderly drunk man peeing behind a dumpster did in one of our trainings. (He just wanted to go home.) 

Above: News Channel 3 reporter Lashay Wesley receives some brief weapons training from EPD officer Drake Goodale.

Our instructors claimed that, when force is used by officers, those actions are proved to be reasonable and justified 99.58 percent of the time. (Of course, those decisions are sometimes challenged successfully in civil cases.) In an attempt to make sure officers stay properly trained — and also to satisfy requirements set by the California Commission on Police Officer Standards and Training (POST), EPD and various other local law enforcement agencies participated in mass FOS trainings.

“You have the stress of all your peers watching you and judging what you’re doing,” Watson said of the trainings. “Everyone wants to do well.”

Above: Officer Goodale presents some of the laser-fied training weapons, including TASERs and pepper spray. Below: Goodale reacts to a scenario wherein he is asked to take on the role of an off-duty officer confronted by a would-be carjacker.