Urbana council members get taste of police training

URBANA — It's only filled with a carbon-dioxide canister to simulate recoil, but a gun is holstered on Alderman Brandon Bowersox's right hip. He's playing the role of an Urbana police officer on Monday, asking a man on the sidewalk to stop.

Bowersox has been told that the man is suspected in an armed robbery, and he's asking nicely — he greeted the man with a "howdy" — to see the man's identification.

The man on the sidewalk is examining his surroundings and insists that he hasn't done anything wrong. He says he lives in a house across the street, and while he points with his left hand, he's pulling a gun out of his back pocket with his right.

It's fortunate for Bowersox that this is only a video simulation. He never even got his gun unholstered.

"I wish I had a faster response," Bowersox said.

Urbana police hope the training he and other city council members experienced Monday does just that with the department's officers. On first glance, a $42,000 grant-funded system seems not more than a high-powered video game. But Urbana Police Chief Patrick Connolly says it's unlike any training the officers have ever gone through.

"This is about life-and-death decisions," Connolly said.

The new system is filled with dozens of scenarios like the one Bowersox faced, and an operator sitting behind a computer can change what happens based on the trainee's actions. The officer stands in front of a video screen and engages the subject he sees on the projection.

He can bark orders or ask for identification. The officer also has the tools on his belt that he'll have on the street: pepper spray, flashlight and a pistol, for instance. Except instead of bullets, the gun fires a laser sight that will show where it hit the screen.

Alderman Charlie Smyth fared better when he faced the man on the sidewalk — his draw was faster than the man's in the video.

According to the computer, the man started reaching for his gun 26.96 seconds into the simulation. Smyth fired his shot at the 27.62-second mark — it's a short time, but for an officer in a real-life situation on the street, that could be the most important 0.66 second of his life.

Urbana police Sgt. Jason Norton said the new system will help officers "mentally blueprint" their training and put it into as near a real-life situation as it can be, "so when they encounter it on the street, it's familiar to them and they know how to interact."

The training is about more than whether or not to pull the trigger, Connolly said. With an operator changing the storyline and manipulating the scenario, the trainee's words matter. The vast majority of the time, Connolly said, it's what an officer says that will ameliorate a situation.

That was evident when the city administrators replayed the scenario with the man on the sidewalk again. The second time through, the man pulled his identification out of his back pocket, not the gun. They all wanted to pull the trigger, but none did.

Urbana City Council members got simple scenarios on Monday. But Urbana police can put obstacles — or cover — in the trainee's way so they can move about the training room as they would in a real situation. Officers have to put all their training to use to end a scenario successfully.

And Connolly says it's a good way for the trainers to discover where their officers need extra tutoring on a specific point. If officers make the same mistake in a given scenario, they know what they need to work on, he said.

And, apparently, it's a good way to show city officials how quickly officers on the street need to react.

"That was pure reaction," Smyth said of his successful shot.

"Some of the time," said Assistant Police Chief Anthony Cobb, "that's all you get."

This story appeared in print on Jan. 10, 2012.

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Local Yocal wrote on January 16, 2012 at 3:01 am
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What is this? A five-day delay in posting a front page story on the website? Did the FOP complain that their carefully crafted propoganda-story didn't get preserved on the website? While Connolly and the boys head off any disagreements they may have with their overseers in the future by guilting them into believing "police have it so hard", there is the reality of police work. Flip the script on the police and accuse them of being violent all the time, and what would they say?, "Nuh-uh." And the police would be right.

Look up the stats on how many times police fire their duty weapons within a year of 20,000 + calls and see that firing the weapon can be counted on one hand. Very rarely do police use force. The vast majority of contacts with police never involve force as about 98% of the citizenry always "obey" police and never threaten them. That it "could happen anytime" is no excuse to program officers to mentally believe every contact with a citizen is a "life and death situation," and explains why some officers cannot rachet down their hostility and paranoia during even a simple traffic stop. This type of training fuels another "Kiwane" and inviting the city council to participate is but a game to convince council members to never question police tactics. No surprise The News-Gazette is willing to carry the water for the police again, believing as they do that martial law and order will foster economic prosperity.

CJ Williams wrote on January 16, 2012 at 11:01 am

Might want to look at www.odmp.org and see how many officers have been murdered this year.

Local Yocal wrote on January 16, 2012 at 4:01 pm
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173 police fatalities in 2011? Horrible. Even just as horrible, if not more (in terms of frequency):

FROM Sunday, April 29, 2001 in the New York Times
"The lack of information on police shootings is attributable to the failure of police departments in many cities to keep and report accurate figures that distinguish between what the police see as "justifiable" shootings � those in which the suspect posed a serious threat � and incidents where an officer may have unlawfully fired at an unarmed civilian.
The International Chiefs of Police, a police organization, tried in the 1980's to collect such information, but "the figures were very embarrassing to a lot of police departments," said James Fyfe, a professor of criminal justice at Temple University who is a former New York City police lieutenant. The results, he said, varied wildly. New Orleans had 10 times as many shootings per 100 officers as Newark. Long Beach had twice as many as neighboring Los Angeles, which in turn had three times more than New York.
Some cities did not provide data at all, Professor Fyfe said, but the results, such as they were, showed that "the rates of deadly force are all over the lot," meaning that some cities appear to be much better and some much worse at managing their police forces.
As for the lack of figures on the use of nondeadly force, the situation is even murkier because there are no uniform definitions of force and no standard reporting requirements from one police department to another.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics, the statistical arm of the Justice Department, has tried to fill in some of the blanks on police behavior, issuing a number of surveys and reports on the topic. Most recently, the bureau quietly released a report, "Policing and Homicide, 1976- 1998." But the report itself underscores the continued problems in knowing what is really happening.
On its cover, for example, the report refers to all the victims of police shootings as "felons justifiably killed by police," a categorization that Samuel Walker, a professor of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, termed "deeply offensive and legally incorrect." In fact, a Justice Department official said the bureau was so embarrassed by the term, and the lack of distinction between justifiable police shootings and murders, that it did not send out its usual promotional material announcing the report.
BUT, the official said, the bureau was trapped because it depends on local police departments to report their figures on police shootings to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and "felons" is the term that police departments insist on using when they do so.
Making matters worse, some police departments fail to report their shootings at all, and for some years, figures from entire states are missing. Although the 1994 crime act ordered the Justice Department to collect such data, there is no law requiring local police departments to provide it, Janet Reno, the former attorney general, acknowledged in a 1999 speech."


Police Brutality in America - by Stephen Lendman, July 15, 2010

In early 2010, InjusticeEverywhere.com published an April - mid-December 2009 (8.5 months) Police Misconduct Report, from figures compiled in its National Police Misconduct Statistics Reporting Project (NPMSRP), begun earlier in March 2009, analyzing data:
"by utilizing news media reports of police misconduct to generate statistical information (to) approximate how prevalent (it) may be in the United States."
Police departments don't usually provide them, nor do courts, except for successful prosecutions, omitting confidential settlements and cases resulting in disciplinary action only, not trials. Media reports, though imperfect, are more complete because laws limit or filter information released. As a result, IE's data "should be considered as a low-end estimate of the current rate of police misconduct," as well as in individual cities covered.
Statistics compiled follow the same DOJ/FBI Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) methodology, recording only the most serious allegation (not conviction) when multiple ones are associated with a particular incident. The findings were as follows:
-- 3,445 police misconduct reports;
-- 4,012 officers charged;
-- 261 law enforcement officials (police chiefs or sheriffs) cited;
-- 4,778 alleged victims;
-- 258 fatalities reported;
-- an average of 15.05 daily incidents or one every 96 minutes;
-- nearly $200 million in related civil litigation expense, excluding legal fees and court costs;
-- 980.64 per 100,000 officers charged;
-- one of every 266 officers accused of a violent crime;
-- one of every 1,875 charged with homocide;
-- one of every 947 accused of sexual assault;
-- 33% of police officers charged were convicted, not necessarily justly for the offense committed;
-- 64% of officers convicted were imprisoned, not necessarily as long as justified;
-- those sentenced served an average 14 months, far less than citizens for the same crime;
-- misconduct by category included 18.1% for non-firearm related excessive force; 11.9% for sexual misconduct; and 8.9% for fraud or theft;
-- analyzing reports by last reported status showed 45.9% affected officers adversely, including 14% internally disciplined and 31.9% criminally charged; of the latter, 32.5% were convicted "for a 10.4% total criminal conviction rate for alleged misconduct incidents; and
-- 27% resulted in civil lawsuits, 34.3% favoring victims.
In addition, data were compiled for states, cities and counties, excluding unavailable federal statistics as well as local omissions, especially in some states. Various offenses included:
-- accountability: evidence of coverups, lax discipline, and other failures to adhere to official policies or processes;
-- animal cruelty, harming them by unnecessary shooting, inappropriate KP unit training, or other mistreatment;
-- assault: "unwarranted violence" off-duty, excluding murder;
-- auto incidents involving recklessness, negligence, and other violations of official policies;
-- brutality, involving excessive physical force on-duty, excluding firearms or tasers;
-- civil rights, including unconstitutional civil liberties violations such as lawless peaceful protest disruptions;
-- sexual misconduct, including rape, sexual assault, sexual battery, wrongfully eliciting sex, harassment, coercion, prostitution, sex on duty, incest, and molestation;
-- theft or fraud, including robbery, shoplifting, extortion or bribery;
-- shooting: gun-related incidents both on and off-duty, including self-harm;
-- taser: excessive force, including usage not according to guidelines, resulting in excessive injury or death; also, improper taser use may be recorded as "brutality;"
-- color of law, including incidents involving misuse of authority such as bribery, soliciting favors, extortion by threat of arrest, or using badges to avoid arrest;
-- perjury, including false testimony, dishonesty during investigations, and falsifying charging papers or warrants; and
-- raids, including misconduct during warranted or warrantless operations or searches, wrong address raids, mistaken ones, use of no-knock ones when warrants require notification, or mistreatment during executions.
Misconduct status stages go from allegations to investigations, lawsuits, charges, trials, judgments, disciplinary measures, terminations, convictions, and sentences.
IE compiles data regularly, prepares daily and quarterly reports, and henceforth an annual one each January the following year. It explains that its statistics:
"should only be used (as) a very basic and general view of the extent of police misconduct. It is by no means an accurate gauge that truly represents the exact extent (of its extensiveness) since it relies on the information voluntarily gathered and/or released to the media, not (first-hand) by independent monitors who investigate complaints.....because no such agency exists for any law enforcement agency...."

Local Yocal wrote on January 16, 2012 at 4:01 pm
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You might also want to see how many of the 173 police fatalities happened in Champaign County, if you can even name the last year we had a police fatality.