I’ve never held a gun, launched pepper spray, or used a baton. And I’ve certainly never hit a police officer.
As a part of a scheduled “reality-based training” (RBT) exercise on May 29, members of the Victoria media were invited to partake in real life, stress-inducing scenarios put on by the Victoria Police Department, similar to their regular training regime.
Officers are required to take part in RBT training every six months, and take further specialized “active threat training” every 18 months in order to be exposed to stressful and dynamic situations, while boosting their performance in critical thinking and reaction. Media were invited to partake in both.
It sounded intimidating beforehand, and our training grounds didn’t help calm my nerves.
We were led into a dark and dingy building with burnt out florescent lights, graffiti-marked walls, and broken furniture strewn across the rooms.
When we arrived at our training room, there were weapons laid out on a stained carpet: axes, knives, a bat with nails, a belt (to tie you back to mimic an injury), baby oil (akin to the slippery nature of fresh blood), and, just to add to the creepiness of the building, a toy doll (not quite sure what that was for).
“It’s important for the media and the public to know what officers are going through,” said Const. Kris Greffard, one of the leaders of the RBT.
I was given a thick, heavy belt lined with pockets and a holster. It was half empty, but still required two clips around the side to make sure it didn’t slide down.
The first lesson was how to assess a situation: when facing a suspect, do they have the ability, the intention and the means to cause grievous bodily harm or death? If yes, an action needs to be taken.
That brings us to step two: determine the action. Action is faster than a reaction, we were told.
First we learned about OC Spray, commonly known as pepper spray.
“Remember being a kid and holding your hand above a candle?” Greffard asked, “It’s that kind of burning on your face, and when you touch it — it’s worse.”
We were each handed a simulation canister — filled with water — and taught to pull it out from our belts and fire right into the eyes of a man on a poster. His name was Ted.
“When you blink, it’s like honey,” she continued. “It gets all the way behind your eyes.”
Next we learned about common fighting techniques: open palm slams, hitting with your elbows and knees.
Never in my life did I think I would ever fight a police officer, but here I was hitting, elbowing, kicking and yelling at an officer whose only defence was a thick training pad.
We learned to deploy and use batons, and hit the police some more. And then, the real deal: were given simulated guns that, aside from the ammo, were the same pistols that police carry while on duty.
Our bullets were coloured pellets, and once again we aimed and fired at Ted — this time I shot him right in the mouth.
Next came scenario training where you walk into a room with an actor, and make a split-second decision based on what you see: do you shoot the man? Is he armed? Will he shoot you? We each took part in three scenarios.
“All of you were taking rounds,” Greffard said in a follow-up talk. She meant we all got shot because we didn’t react fast enough. In another scenario some of us reacted too fast — I shot a man reaching for a cellphone.
Next we went into team drills: going down a narrow hall with doors on both sides and trying to find someone on a warrant. The man grew violent, coming forward with a bat filled with nails. He was shot. In another situation, I was able to de-escalate a situation with a man wielding a crowbar.
Finally, we worked through drills while facing an active shooter. In the same narrow hall, actors were on the floor, bleeding, while others shouted something about a shooter being nearby. The rat-tat-tat of an automatic gun went off from nearby speakers.
“Open door, right!” our team leader, played by Const. Dylan Bruce said.
I’d approach the door, and shout “Back up!”
My teammate would tap my shoulder and yell “move!”
We would enter and search the room before yelling “Clear!”
We did this room by room until we found the shooter. I hesitated and shot him, but not before he ‘killed’ one of us.
At the end of the day I felt drained, yet simultaneously my body was pumping with adrenaline — it was a weird, frantic feeling.
I also felt a new found respect for police officers who work in these high-stress situations everyday, but with much higher consequences than a blue pellet mark on their chest when they make a mistake.