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Real-life shooting simulator provides ‘eye-opening experience’ to citizen’s academy participants

Published: Nov. 20, 2020 at 6:21 PM CST
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BROWN COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) - A new class of students graduated Thursday night from the Brown County Sheriff’s Citizen’s Academy.

They spent 10 weeks learning about different kinds of calls and cases officers respond to, but they ended with the most intense session -- a shooting simulator -- that gave them a glimpse of how officer-involved shootings unfold.

In that simulator, students watch video of an incident playing out in front of them on a screen that stretches floor to ceiling.

They can interact with those people, talking back to them and yelling commands.

In the first scenario, there is an argument at a hotel that led to police being called.

Officers helping with the academy say that kind of call happens often, and in this particular case, it escalates rapidly.

The man at the center of attention grabs a gun from a table near him and shoots at the students before they ever fire off a shot.

As Brown County Sheriff’s deputies review the situation with the class immediately after it ends, the student in the officer role says he never saw the gun, sitting in plain view, right in front of him.

The student tells the group, “I was focused on him.”

The deputies tell them that’s common, saying, “This is the point where you can focus on him. The human body can only focus on one point.”

In order to make these scenarios as real as possible, the room is dark, but through speakers, the sounds are loud and clear.

You can see, hear and feel how intense it is.

It’s also unsuspecting.

Another scenario involves a mother and father arguing at a child custody exchange zone.

The woman pulls a baby out of the car, and the baby begins crying.

Suddenly, she grabs a gun and shoots the man, then turns and shoots toward the students.

“I think the scenarios were some that people may not expect,” says student Vicki Grady.

And that’s the point, say officers, who want to show people with no police training how difficult it is to make split-second, life and death decisions.

“When you think you can just take one shot and be done, that’s not going to happen,” says participant John Callaway.

In fact, students say they were surprised they didn’t fire more rounds.

We met Callaway and Grady in September, just before they started the citizen’s academy.

We asked then what they expected the classes to be like.

“I don’t think people fully understand what it’s like to be a police officer,” Grady said at that time.

“I think it would be good to have that knowledge and to have first-hand experience, even though it’s scratching the surface,” said Callaway.

Two months later, they say they’ve learned a lot and their views and perspectives are different.

“It’s been an eye-opening experience,” says Callaway.

“All I can say is you have no idea until you put yourself in that situation,” says Grady. “You can think you know or imagine what you might do, but until you’re actually in that situation, you just don’t know, and there’s no time to think about it.”

The sheriff’s office plans to hold another academy next fall.

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