VIDEO: Use-of-force cop training: ‘My chest felt heavy as I pulled the trigger’

10:00 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 23, 2017 Local
Practice weapons are prepared during a use-of-force training event at a recently renovated Boynton Beach Police department facility in Boynton Beach. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

My hands shook as I aimed my gun. My chest felt heavy as I pulled the trigger.

I was sure I fired only once; I was later told I had fired at least 10 times.

I felt sick, but also relief, because it was all just a simulation — part of Boynton Beach Police’s shoot/don’t shoot training for reporters and city officials so we could have a small sense of the uncertainty officers face on the streets.

The “shooting” happened before noon on Thanksgiving Eve in the parking lot of an ale house in Boynton Beach. The makeshift scenario was that I was called to investigate a disturbance in which two men were fighting and a crowd had formed around them. I didn’t know if the men were armed. But I walked up to the scene with my gun out of its holster anyway.

Boynton Beach police give reporter first-hand experience of stressful situation.

The men were taller than me. They are were very loud. I was wearing a bullet-proof vest, a long-sleeved shirt and a mask and I was very hot. I looked at the scene: “What is that guy who’s walking around holding?” and “What are these men screaming?” were questions that popped in my head.

Who are the good guys? Who should I be focusing on? Is everyone a bad guy?, I was thinking.

I don’t want to get shot.

“Hey! Hey! Guys. Guys,” I shouted.

One of the men arguing looked at me.

I shot him (albeit with the fake gun with soap bullets).

I thought he had a gun. I’d find out later he didn’t.

He fell to the ground but I couldn’t help him — there was another guy I had to watch.

Suddenly, someone in the background fired at me. I shot back so many times and so fast that it was hard to come up with a number while watching the body camera video later.

If this was all real, I would have been put on paid administrative leave and would have been quizzed for someone to determine whether my shots were justified.

Were they?

In my mind, my life was in danger. But why did I shoot someone who simply looked at me? And why did I shoot someone else at least 10 times?

Well, I don’t have training. This was my first time firing a gun and my first time acting like a police officer.

But the point was clear: Officers don’t know what they’re up against, and only training and experience can help them prepare.

The training coincided with the Boynton Beach Police department opening of their newly-renovated $190,000 training center on Congress Avenue. It has LED lights, a surround system, renovated walls, a new roof, new air conditioning and new floors. Officers can do active shooter training inside and plan to build movable walls to have the building mimic a house.

The reporters and city officials were invited to act in these real-life scenarios to understand what officers go through in these shoot/don’t shoot calls. 

Mayor Steven Grant took part and had to decide whether to shoot two fighting men who stood over an injured police officer on the ground.

“He came towards me. I didn’t tell him to get back. I just shot him,” Grant said after.

Officers didn’t tell us whether we acted correctly. Capt. Matthew Zeller said officers never know what they’re going to encounter in any scenario and what the officer is thinking and feeling has to be taken into account regardless of what the video shows. And sometimes, even the body camera doesn’t show the whole story depending on how wide the view is.

“Things happen really fast,” said Zeller. “These are life-changing incidents.”