Last month, a Lubbock County Grand Jury cleared two officers involved in a deadly shooting, finding that they were justified in using deadly force. During that incident, 19-year-old Michael De La Rosa pointed what appeared to be a gun at the officers, who then shot and killed De La Rosa. The gun turned out to be fake, but the officers couldn't have possibly known that at the time.
Which brings up some good questions. How are officers trained, and when is it ok to use deadly force?
Before they ever hit the streets, Lubbock Police officers are required to put in more than 600 hours of training. Part of that training takes place in a state of the art simulator at the Reese Technology Center. A simulator that trains officers to be ready for anything.
For officers in training, this is as real as real gets. Lt. Travis Sanders trains officers on a state-of-the-art computer simulator, which can simulate more than 100 different scenarios including school shootings, hostage situations and robberies in progress.
The scenario he showed us features suspects hiding out in a hotel room. Lt. Sanders fired four rounds when he felt a threat. "The suspect reached for something on the bed and as soon as he picked that up, I did not identify that as a weapon, but he started making a movement toward me and I felt like my life was in danger at that time and that's when I fired," says Lt. Sanders.
The computer starts an internal clock set by the programmer which tells officers when the use of deadly force would be appropriate. Lt. Sanders fired his first shot just two tenths of a second after the use of deadly force was justified. He fired a second shot just six tenths of a second after the clock started. Judgment calls that come only after intense training.
Then, he put the weapon in my hands. First I shot at a moving object to orient myself with a moving target. "It's harder than it looks."
From the control room, the computer operator shoots back at you to make the exercise even more real. "She fired a shot at you. You never got a shot off? No. And that's probably when you got hit in the leg."
Speaking now from experience, if you hesitate and don't make split second decisions you might be dead. Which perhaps helps to clarify why two Lubbock officers reacted the way they did when Michael De La Rosa pointed a fake gun at them on January 24th.
The Lubbock Police Department has had the simulator for two years now. It was purchased with seized drug funds.