BOUNTIFUL – A man in dark clothing and a demure young woman in a hoodie sat at a long table talking. Dub step music blared from a nearby radio.
Even from a distance, the scene was uncomfortable. She retreated in her chair as his speech became faster and louder. He leaned in.
Suddenly, the man grabbed his companion’s arm and brandished a black gun with the other hand, yelling “where are you gonna go, where are you gonna go.” He shot at the ceiling, filling the room with the smell of gunpowder.
Suddenly, a muffled shout came from another room: “Put down the gun.”
Within minutes, officers shot the man with plastic bullets from behind a pillar. After recoiling in fear, the hostage nervously raised her arms and surrendered.
Then, another officer yelled, asking whether the scene was secure. It was.
The incident was part of a live training program organized by the Bountiful Police Department. Officers from West Bountiful, Woods Cross, Centerville, Farmington, Kaysville and North Salt Lake also participated.
Bountiful holds these “force-on-force” trainings about twice a year with the help of in-house firearms experts, said Asst. Chief Ed Biehler. The trainings supplement the instruction officers get in the Utah Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) police academy, but participating in these simulations isn’t required to be sworn.
“All you have to do is shoot at a paper target to qualify,” Biehler said. “We know that’s not the best way to train.”
It’s true that POST only requires officers to shoot at a paper target, but the academy uses force-on-force trainings using live actors and guns loaded with plastic ammunition, said Lt. Wade Breur, bureau chief over training.
This time, local police used the building that housed the Bountiful/Davis Art Center for decades. It’s set to be demolished within months.
Detectives, traffic patrollers and all officers in between had to participate. They get help from actors from other government departments and charities.
In the first few scenes of any of these trainings, people aren’t used to being shot at and are relaxed and relatively unaware of things, Biehler said.
“After you’re shot once or twice, your senses are heightened,” he explained.
That’s vital, because deadly threats can come from anywhere.
During last week’s training at BDAC, one seasoned officer was shot in the back while standing in the “fatal funnel” С a doorway С and talking to a pair of suspects. The officer didn’t realize anyone was inside.
Deadly force wasn’t always called for in the simulations, however. Some scenes also included people with guns who were not supposed to be shot.
When the officers made mistakes such as shooting when they shouldn’t or not shooting when they should, they often got pinged with fake bullets by other actors. Biehler explained:
“They tend to remember mistakes well when they go home with a couple welts.”