Police simulator column

Reporter Joe Schulz points his gun at a truck as he tries to negotiate with the occupant during a virtual drill.

At the end of May, Fond du Lac County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Nick Kahnke “felt physically sick” when he saw the video of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on the neck of George Floyd.

“That was flat out murder, and it makes any cop sick to see something like this,” he said of the tragedy. “9.9 times out of 10, the officers that are in these situations are doing it correctly.”

While the video sparked a nationwide discussion about police reform and systemic racism, Fond du Lac County Sheriff Ryan Waldschmidt noted in Wisconsin, neck restraints of any kind are not taught or encouraged.

As of July 21, the sheriff’s office had 31 use-of-force interactions. Of those interactions, zero have resulted in injury.

Kahnke, who is a use-of-force instructor, attributes the department’s success to its training, specifically its VirTra, Inc. V-300 virtual training simulator, which aims to teach officers proper use-of-force techniques.

At a demonstration in front of local officials and members of the public, I had the opportunity to step into the simulator and respond to a crime. I was given a police belt containing pepper spray, a gun and a taser (none of which were loaded).

The training room went dark, and a dispatcher’s voice rang out. The voice explained that there was a disturbance at city hall involving a male in his 20s, who was just fired and is sitting in a pickup truck, refusing to leave.

As I arrived on the scene, the person who called the police was standing outside the driver’s side window of the black pickup truck and the man who was just fired was holding a gun to his head.

I pulled my gun out and began yelling, “Please put the weapon down and we’ll get you some help.” The gunman didn’t respond.

I asked the man outside the car to leave and he listened. I continued trying to communicate with the man in the car, pleading with him to put the weapon down.

“Put the gun down and we can talk and we can get you some help,” I begged.

He got out of the car, with the gun still pointed at his head, and at first I thought maybe I was getting through to him.

Then his back turned to me, and he took a step toward city hall.

I pulled the trigger.

After he was hit, the man turned and shot himself in the head.

Kahnke reviewed the situation with the group, determining proper use of force was used because the man put others in harm when he moved toward the building with the weapon.

“You offered options,” he said. “You told him to put the gun down and psychologically, I think you drew a line in the sand and you identified that you’re not going to let this guy go in there and become that active shooter that we absolutely don’t want.”

The training emphasized the unpredictability facing those in law enforcement each day.

Read the full column in the Aug. 6, 2020 edition of the Ripon Commonwealth Press.

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