By Jon Burkett, Web Staff and Mike Bergazzi
RICHMOND, Va. -- The question of when it is okay for police officers to fire their weapons has intensified over recent years, both in Richmond and around the country.
Most police and sheriff's departments have similar rules regarding the use of deadly force - it should only be used to preserve life or prevent serious injury, and only as a last resort. But for the officers involved, making the decision to pull the trigger is never easy. It's described as being nerve-wracking, gut-wrenching, and marked by the tendency to second guess oneself.
Problem Solvers Investigator Jon Burkett knows this feeling well - that's because he spent time in a state of the art "use of force" simulator designed to give members of the media and the public a better idea of what it's like to be an officer deciding whether or not to fire a service weapon and potentially end a life.
Ronald Hosko, former Assistant Director of the FBI and president of the Alexandria based "Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund," said that the simulator helps open people's eyes to the reality of situations faced by police officers every day.
"I think everybody we put through this experience is taking away a slightly different perspective and thinking, 'hey, this isn't as easy as I thought it was,'" Hosko said. "You can be the best cop and then the tables are turned on you and you are simply trying to do your job. We are trying to put in all those elements as the basis for discussion."
In the simulator, choosing the wrong weapon can end in a partner paying the price, and information from dispatchers must be utilized quickly to make quick decisions.
In the wake of real police shootings, Hosko notes that civil dialogue is quick to fall to the wayside - and said that there is room for improvement on both sides.
"Police owe the community some transparency," Hosko said, " There should be accountability and I think the community owes them back the opportunity to conduct a straight-faced investigation. "
But Richmond criminologist Dr. Monekka Munroe explains that the real problem is the divide that exists between police officers and the neighborhoods they patrol. "We shouldn't be afraid to call the police if we are the victim, but for a lot of us, that is the actual feeling."
Munroe said experiences like stepping inside the "use of force" simulator are invaluable because of the dialogue they spark with officers and agents who have influence in the community. "They actually listened to what I had to say," Munroe said, "they didn't view me as um, quite frankly, the angry black woman."
Even after the simulation, differences in opinion still exist. During Hosko's presentation, he said that police officers don't simply "wake up in the morning intending to shoot or kill someone." Munroe said that while she would like to believe that, she knows that as a former police officer, he needed to say it.
"Everbody does not think that way, and we say that because of the fear that some officers have when they're dealing with the public," Munroe said.
Hosko said he hears those concerns - and he believes that most police departments are ready and willing to be a part of the solution.
"We can only do that if we start to build bridges and trust each other particularly in communities where this is a racial divide already.," Hosko said. "Where there is poverty, there is a lack of opportunity whether it be educational or other - and we are looking to be part of that conversation."