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Inside use-of-force police drill: Shoot or don't shoot?
03:03 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: Carol Costello anchors the 9 to 11 a.m. ET edition of CNN’s “Newsroom” each weekday. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.

Story highlights

Carol Costello: Until you're in the shoes of a police officer, you don't know how you'll react to encounter with someone wielding a gun

She says trying a number of scenarios helped provide perspective

CNN  — 

A few weeks back, the executive producer of my show “Newsroom” suggested I take a police training course. “You’re crazy,” I told her. “What would it prove? I’m not a trained police officer. And I do not want my audience to think I am taking sides at a time when so many police shootings are controversial.”

But, the more she talked, the more intriguing the idea.

“When all is said and done,” she said, “Not many people know what it’s like to be in a situation that’s life or death. Including you. It’s just a different perspective.”

That word, “perspective,” got me. Clearly there are bad cops who abuse the privilege of enforcing the law. But, it is my job to provide perspective. So, I decided to give it a go.

My team approached CNN analyst, Navy SEAL and former FBI agent Jonathan Gilliam for help. He obliged, setting up scenarios police officers deal with every day. We traveled to upstate New York, to a training facility complete with a fake town, a gun range and plenty of equipment.

Jonathan acted as my partner. My “Sergeant” was Kirby Scott, a retired special agent for the FBI. I was outfitted with a 25-pound, bulletproof vest, a gun loaded with pellets and a police radio. I also wore a heart monitor to see how my body reacted to intense situations.

My first “call” went like this: “OK,” said Kirby. For this first scenario: Officer is responding, which is you, to a domestic call of an EDP person. An emotionally disturbed person, who left his residence after threatening to kill himself at his residence. He is now at his parent’s home. Classic suicide by cop.”

Jonathan looked at me and asked, “Ready?”

My hands were sweating, which surprised me because, after all, this wasn’t real life. Still, I was nervous, my heart rate soaring. Would I make the right decision? Could I avoid killing a man who told his wife he wanted to die?

Jonathan and I approached “Sean’s” home and entered. He was sitting down with his hands under a table. I tried to calm him down. Jonathan tried to convince him to put his hands on the table.

You’ll have to watch the video to see what happened next.

But, I ask you, as you watch these scenarios, to ask yourself what you would do? And, be honest about it. I did get some backlash on social media for trying this experiment. This from Austin: “Is this intended to distract from the current issues in Chicago and justify a cop shooting an individual 16 times … armed with a pocket-knife?”

Absolutely not. I will, most definitely, report the facts that surrounded that real-life scenario. Others wondered why I did not ask an African American actor to participate because race is an important part of the equation. A valid question as is that of gender. Would I have behaved differently? I don’t know.

But, remember that word – perspective. That was my sole intent.

So, what perspective did I gain from my exercise?

I don’t have it in me to automatically shoot someone. And, I’ll bet most of us, including most police officers, don’t either. Again, I’m not saying there aren’t bad cops or bad shootings – clearly there are – but perspective is important. I also learned it’s easy to say, “why didn’t the cop just shoot him in the leg?”

That would be great, but when a person armed with a weapon is threatening your life, you shoot to stop that person. That means you aim for the largest part of the body. Remember, it’s you or the suspect.

I don’t have any illusions these scenarios will bring both sides to a kumbaya moment, but I do hope they provide perspective.

Your comments are welcome.

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