Reporter Mark David Smith is participating in the Keller Police Department’s Citizen Police Academy, which runs from Jan. 27 - April 14. The CPA is not open to the general public, but students must apply and be approved. Not everything covered in the classroom can be published here.
For a moment, I froze.
A man larger than me was coming at me aggressively. Gun drawn, I knew I could fire, but it felt so strange thinking, “This gun – my gun – might kill him.”
For a moment, I forgot it wasn’t real.
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I’ve been participating in the Keller Police Department’s Citizen Police Academy since January. Tuesday, members of the class and I participated in a building search training exercise at Southlake DPS headquarters.
After class was dismissed, Keller police officers Darrell Potts and Michael Fejes asked me to hang back. I thought maybe there would be some more target shooting on deck – after all, I was wearing a GoPro video camera on my head to give a first-person look at the training.
They had something much more real in mind.
Potts gave me the simunition handgun – a training gun similar to paintball – led me out the door and explained that in the scenario, I was arriving at a residence where two roommates were arguing over money.
I knocked. Potts – as one of the residents – let me in, trying to explain the situation.
Then an unrecognizable Fejes came out from a back wall, yelling at Potts, then at me.
My mind whirling, I asked him to stop, to show me his hands and warned him he was too close.
Then I fired, adrenaline masking the reminder that this was all fake.
The angry roommate, hit in the abdomen, carried on. He pulled out his own gun – yelling the whole time – and threatened me.
With no room to back up, I pulled the trigger again.
My gun jammed.
And then again.
I’d have been shot.
“How bad does that suck?” Fejes asked me immediately after.
Fejes was wearing protective clothing, but I wasn’t, so he didn’t shoot me and they ended the scenario.
The whole thing is a blur. I was out of breath and parched, mind racing and heart pounding. I never noticed the joke Potts made about Fejes, who is originally from Canada, being “all jacked up on maple syrup.” I missed my exit on my way home.
I kept wondering if that’s what it’s like to be a cop.
The answer is no, they’re trained for incidents like that, which was even harder to wrap my mind around.
Potts and Fejes ran the scenario to show me the stressful and unpredictable nature of their jobs. While an incident as aggressive and dangerous as this scenario doesn’t happen every day in Keller, it’s still something officers have to be prepared for.
Part of my confusion during the scenario stemmed from not knowing what to expect when the door opened – wondering if I’d be shooting a paper target, like I had earlier. As Fejes kept approaching, I, flustered and startled, wondered aloud if it was OK to shoot, then fired.
Regardless, there were so many decisions to be made in such a short amount of time, it was hard to process. I’ve seen videos of these kind of situations, I’ve thought about what I would do in them, but seeing and thinking it is vastly different than doing it.
Building search exercise
Before all of that, Fejes and Potts lectured and gave demonstrations about the department’s building search techniques, scenarios and policies.
Then, it was our turn.
Groups of two worked their way through a makeshift model of a home, firing at paper targets, simulating a dangerous domestic call. My partner, Mike Kearney, and I entered with this final word of advice: “When in doubt, don’t shoot.”
I entered first and checked the room immediately to the right. In one corner, I saw a gun pointing at me. I nearly pulled the trigger but saw the guy -- paper target -- was wearing a uniform and a badge.
In the other corner was a man wearing a wife-beater pointing a gun at me. I nearly shot again, until I saw he was holding a badge.
Mike had my back until I shouted, “Clear!” Then I followed close behind as we moved down the hall. He shot a couple targets that looked like dangerous suspects. We were doing well.
Then we got to the last room. I was “One,” and slowly peeked around the doorway with Mike right behind. I saw what looked like a man aiming his gun at me. No badge.
Then near him, covered by shadows, it looked like the outline of a large man, and possibly another person. I couldn’t tell what they looked like because of the shadows.
I held my fire.
The simulation run over, we walked closer to see what the mysterious target actually was. Turns out it was a young woman or girl holding a gun to a large man’s head. Not what I was expecting.
The exercise was designed to show us the danger, mystery and split-decision making police have to be prepared for on a daily basis. And it emphasized the “reactive” nature of their training.
“We are 100 percent at the disadvantage,” Fejes said, because police have to react to something suspects do to protect themselves.
On the docket next week: K-9 operations, drug enforcement and defensive tactics. This will be the last academy meeting before the graduation and class critique.
Mark David Smith, 817-390-7808