Vancouver Police Department Friday morning gave local media a chance to train like police officers for a few hours.
Reporters were invited to meet with the department’s Force Options Training Unit at VPD’s Tactical Training Centre just off Great Northern Way near Clark Drive where officers took us through physical control tactics, how and why police officers use different levels of force — from “soft physical control” to lethal force and everything in between — and how to defuse a potentially volatile situation using only words.
“Police use of force can be contentious and often misunderstood,” said media relations officer Const. Steve Addison. “It’s important that we do everything we can to help the public understand how police officers train and the challenges we face in dynamic situations when we have to make split-second decisions.”
Vancouver police officers respond to an average of 240,000 calls for service annually. Force — described as hard physical control (techniques that have a higher probability of causing injury) or the use of a weapon (bean bag gun, Taser, or firearm) — is used in less than one per cent of those cases.
So far this year, Vancouver police officers have pulled out their Tasers 23 times — in three of those cases the device did not have to be deployed, Const. Matt McKinnon with the Force Options Training Unit told reporters. As for firearms, according to numbers from the provincial Police Services Division, one Vancouver police officer discharged their firearm in 2017 (the last year the statistics are available), down from three in 2016.
In 2007, the B.C. government’s policing and security branch starting tracking how often police officers shot their guns. The numbers show that between 2007 and 2017 there were an average of 13 police shooting incidents in the province with an average of four deaths and four people injured every year.
“The vast majority of situations we encounter are resolved through verbal dialogue, however sometimes we need to use force, and when we do we need to make sure the force is reasonable, appropriate and legally justified,” Addison said.
The department employs a team of role-players as part of the training. They act as the suspects, but also as by-standers who might try to film officers, yell at them, or interfere.
Retired VPD Sgt. Clive Milligan, who currently trains new recruits in use of force at the B.C. Police Academy, said that officers are able to defuse a lot of situations through using their brains, staying calm and talking to people but have to be prepared to fight.
“Treat everybody with respect, but when you’re in a fight, you have to win that fight,” he said. “Then after that fight, you treat everyone with courtesy and respect.”
After a couple hours of training and hearing some of the theory and techniques behind police use-of-force, reporters were thrust into two real-life scenarios depicted by a team of role-players.
One is a domestic situation involving a delusional and agitated individual with a weapon (a plastic crowbar) where we’re able to defuse the situation, and get the man to put down his weapon, by simply talking to him.
The second scenario was more of a surprise attack. A (simulated) average morning in a coffee shop turns into chaos when a man enters and starts shooting — the cashier and a customer are hurt. The friend of the injured customer is yelling for us to call an ambulance.
We take cover and shoot back, disabling the assailant. The simulation quickly ends.
The guns, of course, shoot nothing but blanks and no one is hurt, but the experience and the adrenaline of having to make split-second, life-or-death decisions feel very real.