Dickinson police train for shootouts
By Katherine Lymn
Dozens of them, actually.
It was all for training, but it was as close to the real deal as possible — and that was the point.
Armed with “Simunition” guns, Dickinson Police Department officers Sunday and Monday afternoons acted out scenarios that they’ve faced or could face in patrolling. The scenarios often centered on escalated bar altercations or domestic dispute situations.
By using weapons that caused real pain — the bullets hit twice as fast as paintball gun bullets — the scenarios raised officers’ stress levels so they trained themselves to react well under similar, real-life situations.
“We’ll try to put officers into as close to real-life situations as we can,” Officer Matt Hanson said.
The officers got some training in theater, too — they all played suspects for each other’s training.
Hanson wrote out various scenarios and coordinated the event.
In one, officers approached a belligerent man walking down Villard swinging a gun around. When the man raised his gun, officers shot him.
In another, a discussion on politics in a bar escalated to a fight outside, with one patron holding a gun.
With the officers yelling loudly and the fresh smell of gunshot in the air, hearts were racing and it was easy to forget the training was taking place in the common area of a college dorm.
Hanson said the next Simunition training might focus on vehicle-involved gun situations.
When prepping officers for the scenarios, Hanson emphasized treating the situations as reality.
“Give it the response that you would normally give it in a regular call response situation,” he told them before the Monday training.
Simunition is a form of “force-on-force” training, which is gaining in popularity among police forces.
“Force-on-force is the only way to train,” Officer Todd Weiler said, as he prepared to shoot his comrade in one scenario.
Officers wore neck guards, helmets and their usual bulletproof vests. With the exception of their uniforms (to avoid putting bullet holes in them) they wore their regular footwear and duty belts so they physically felt as close as possible to how they feel on routine patrol, Hanson said.
After each scenario, officers briefed each other on how they did. Hanson said he was interested to see different responses to sticky situations — would they shoot in a certain case or not?
Before training began, officers cleared the building to make sure no straggling students were in their dorms — they’d be in for quite the shock if they didn’t know what was going on but heard the shouting and shooting.
For similar reasons, officers cleaned up used bullets after each scenario so one wasn’t found once school got back in session.
Officer Timothy Jokerst said the exercises help to give officers muscle memory for reacting in real-life situations.
“It gets your mind going,” he said. “Not every day do we have these calls.”