Sunday, April 11, 2010

Facing the Unknown

My knees felt weak as I grasped the cold, heavy metal weapon and adrenaline surged through my body. I didn't know if the angry trucker reaching into his pocket would pull out his driver's license -- or a gun.

My brain exploded into overdrive. Should I shoot or wait -- and pray? Was my life in enough danger that it would justify taking his? What if I missed? Or what if I guessed wrong -- and the trucker didn't intend to hurt anyone. It might take just a single shot to create a widow and leave his children fatherless because of my mistake.

My heart was pounding and my hands were sweating. And it was only a simulation.

The trucker was an actor in a video on a large screen. My gun was real, but it had been adapted to fire a laser beam instead of bullets. A guy sitting at a computer could change the scenario depending on how I reacted to what was on the screen. It was all part of the Citizens Police Academy, a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at police work for three hours each Wednesday evening for eight weeks.

And although the suspects in the simulation videos couldn't shoot at me, the experience provided a small glimpse into the split-second decisions my son -- and other law enforcement officers -- must make every day.

It also gave me a new appreciation of the potential ramifications of each of those decisions -- and a clearer understanding of the courage it must take for any law officer, including those patrolling in tiny, quiet towns, to approach a vehicle after pulling it over, not knowing if the person inside has a gun and a reason to use it. The other night I drove past a State Trooper approaching a car he'd stopped along the highway and I burst into tears.

And while I've learned so much at the Citizen Police Academy, I'm beginning to wonder if applying was a mistake. It's beginning to feel a whole lot like my great idea years ago that covering airline safety hearings on Capitol Hill would cure me of newly developed nervousness about flying after a really turbulent and scary flight. Instead, I haven't gotten on a plane in over 25 years.

I'm thinking this Citizen Police Academy experience is going to destroy every last one of my comforting trips into the Land of Denial where, when I get really unnerved about No. 1 son's chosen profession, I pretend he really did get a degree in engineering and is now working in that high-paying profession in Washington, DC.

Of course some of our recent conversations have made that delusion difficult anyway. When you ask how work is going and your child says he was in a high-speed chase one day and climbing onto roofs to look for burglars the next, it's hard to make-believe that he's talking about calculators and math. The announcement that he'll be part of a unit using mountain bikes to patrol and control in civil disturbances -- and that he knows how to use the bike as a weapon if he has to -- didn't help.

But Sunday I asked a question that probably doesn't occur to most mothers, whether their children are engineers or something else, and it was all because of a video we watched at the Citizen Police Academy. What I had to know was: "Can you can load and shoot a gun with one hand? Because if you can't, please start praticing."

He assured me he's been trained in that skill. Fortunately, most law enforcement officers have been, especially after the 1986 FBI shootout with criminals in Miami depicted in the video showed how critical that talent can be when your shooting arm is disabled by gunfire and the bad guys are advancing with every intention of killing you.

I don't think they teach that in engineering school.


Paula Butturini said...

Great blog, and you're right; maybe it WASN'T the best idea to enroll in this course. Sometimes (a little) ignorance is a good thing...

Beth Marchak said...

So this is what David's godmother does with her spare time up in the north woods?