Oklahoma law enforcement takes steps to reduce unnecessary police shootings

The fatal shooting of Terrence Crutcher, an unarmed man, by a Tulsa police officer was just the latest of the many fatal police-involved shootings in Oklahoma, the state that leads the nation in fatal police shootings, according to a Washington Post analysis. Last year, 32 people were killed by law enforcement officers in Oklahoma. Most of those were armed with a deadly weapon; two were allegedly using their vehicles as weapons—but one was armed only with a toy gun. Four more were unarmed.

Brady Henderson, the Legal Director for the Oklahoma ACLU, calls the state a “perfect storm” for violence between law enforcement and civilians, citing lack of standardized statewide training for police officers, high rates of substance abuse and untreated mental illness, and high incarceration rates for increasing violent conflict between Oklahomans and law enforcement officers.

Certainly, police officers, sheriff’s deputies, and state troopers are all placed in high-pressure situations in which their decisions could mean life or death—for themselves, for innocent victims, or for criminal suspects. And it is easy to second guess an officer’s decision to shoot or not to shoot with the benefit of hindsight.

But it is critical that local law enforcement has adequate training to make those snap life-or-death decisions appropriately, understanding that not every threat is as it is perceived to be, and realizing that not every threat requires lethal force to neutralize.

The Midwest City Police Department has recently unveiled a new tool it hopes will give police officers just that type of training. The $150,000 “decision-making” tool is a computer generated simulator that puts officers in a number of realistic scenarios which require them to decide whether lethal force is appropriate.

The simulator puts the officer in a 180-degree virtual environment, equipped a service weapon, a taser, and a can of pepper spray, each equipped to shoot lasers at the high-quality video environment in front of them and surrounding them in their peripheral vision.

Additionally, the video—and thus the suspects and civilians portrayed in them—is interactive, allowing the virtual suspects and bystanders to respond to voice commands. According to Midwest City Police Capt. Jerry Kennedy, “If I'm giving good voice commands or I'm interacting the way I'm supposed to, he can actually de-escalate it while the scenario is going on or he can increase it. There's several outcomes we can do on many of these scenarios depending on how well the officer is responding.”

The hope is that this new simulator, by increasing the perceived reality of police interactions, will allow officers the “experience” of several types of potentially dangerous interactions and provide them the training they need to make critical life-or-death decisions that could save lives while not unnecessarily taking lives.

Image Credit: Midwest City Police Department