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I’M WALKING the beat with Officer Casey when the 911 call comes in.
Disturbance. Downtown. Hurry.
We rush to the scene and enter a crowded restaurant, our hearts racing. At a far table by the window a man, 40ish, is arguing with a woman sitting across from him.
An object in his hand catches the light.
“Seattle police!” Casey barks. “Put down the knife! Put down your knife!”
The man turns to look at us. He says he just wants to talk to her. Casey, turning red from anxiety, draws his service revolver from his hip and takes aim.
“Put down the knife! Put it …”
The man ignores the command 16 times. He stands up and inches closer to the woman, keeping his eyes on us. In a blink, he wheels around and plunges the knife into her.
Bam! Bam! Bam!
Bullets blast his back. Too late.
“Damn,” Casey says under his breath. He turns and sighs: “Can I try again?”
Welcome to the police world of second chances.
Officer Casey isn’t really a sworn Seattle officer — he’s my colleague, P-I crime reporter Casey McNerthney.
The restaurant is actually a video projection on a giant screen in a high-tech Seattle Police Department simulator in Tukwila. We wanted a taste of what goes through an officer’s mind in the heat of the moment — in high-stress, rapidly unfolding encounters that involve the use of force.
“Whenever an officer is involved in a shooting, they think about it forever,” says Seattle Police Sgt. Pete Verhaar, a veteran firearms training instructor — and our guide. “They try to forget. They never can. It stays with you the rest of your life.”
Think back over recent Seattle headlines — like the controversy over a Seattle police officer who shot and injured a 13-year-old boy last year. In the dark, the officer thought the kid was reaching for a gun. It was a cell phone.
The public, in a rush to judgment, said the officer was in the wrong, ignoring that sweet-faced kids have shot at cops before. The shooting was later ruled justified, within department policy.
Rarely is any case as black and white as it seems.
Judging from our day in the simulated line of fire — the split-second thinking, blinding rush of adrenaline and ways a memory can play tricks — being an officer is tougher than we thought.
When officers face a lethal threat, these words go through their minds: “Action beats reaction.”
We faced several scenarios, including a deranged and armed man talking to himself. In another, a guy was rifling through a house where the electricity was knocked out by a storm. I thought he was the homeowner searching for a screwdriver for the fuse box — until he pointed a gun.
The people projected on the giant screen, through computerized magic, interacted with us — two journalists cast as officers. Software scrambled the outcomes. The realistic-looking Glock we carried discharged blanks and fired lasers at the screen. A computer measured whether our “bullets” struck the intended target as well as our reaction times.
Reporters often think their memories are infallible. But in the frenzy of computerized bad guys, I realized that what we remembered — the number of shots fired, whether a suspect showed a weapon, if innocent people were in the crossfire — veered from video replays of reality.
“It felt better,” Casey said, “hearing the instructors explain that your mind remembers what is a threat, remembers how you perceived it instead of what actually happened.”
He had just “answered” a noise disturbance call in a parking lot full of rowdy adults. He focused on a young man wearing a checkered shirt who looked like a gangbanger. But Casey profiled him — and it cost him. He never saw the real danger — the man’s innocent- looking female companion who had slipped to the left. She rushed up and blasted Casey.
“I messed up,” Casey said, drawing a nod from Officer Jeff Kappel, evaluating nearby.
Casey handed over the gun. My turn.
There’s trouble inside a home where neighbors report screaming. As I approach, the front door is ajar. I step inside, into darkness, guided by only a flashlight.
Clothes are strewn everywhere. Furniture is overturned. More shouting.
I draw my weapon.
“Seattle police!” I yell.
Robbery? Hostage situation?
I edge to an upstairs bedroom and push open the door.
A woman and man are on the bed. They turn to look at me before unleashing more screams. Are they married? Friends?
I see the guy holding something — a knife? He lunges. I fire four times. He drops.
I catch my breath, but I’m not 100 percent sure if the man had a knife. Was it a cell phone?
Fortunately, I’m right.
Later, we watched a replay. It turns out the woman was trying to tell me the man was trying to rape her. If I had written up a police report, I would have left that out. I never heard her say “rape” — hard to admit as a journalist who has criticized officers for failing to write thorough reports.
We know cops are far from perfect. But at the end of the day, Casey and I realized a few new things.
First, police show remarkable restraint by not rushing to use guns in thorny disputes. In fact, most officers go whole careers without firing a shot.
And everyone — even critics like me — can get an eye-opener by walking in officers’ shoes.
LAKE PLACID – Two Highlands County sheriff’s deputies returning from a false alarm call, escaped injury after a rear-end collision with each other in the 600 block of Placid Lakes Boulevard late Thursday afternoon.
Deputy Jacob Riley, followed in a cruiser by deputy Brennen Warner, were headed back from the alarm call, when an orange tabby cat ran out in front of Riley’s lead car causing the deputy to swerve and brake suddenly.
Warner’s vehicle ran into the back of Riley’s car causing about $5,000 damage to Warner’s car and $1,800 damage to Riley’s car.
The Florida Highway Patrol investigated, said sheriff’s Sgt. Sean Casey on Friday. The patrol found the rear car was following too close.
The cat did not survive the crash.