Emeryville PD Force Options Simulator Class Outlines Use of Force Policy

Published On May 3, 2016 | By Michelle Mendieta Mitchell | Commentary, Crime & Public Safety, News & Commentary

I looked at Emeryville Police Officer Ron Shepherd with wide eyes and breathlessly asked, “Did he have a gun?” My shaking hands gripped a gun outfitted with a laser I had just used to shoot a man in a simulated domestic violence call, part of a recent trial run of the Emeryville Police Department’s Force Options Simulator classes for civilians that delve into use of force.

The simulated encounter came at the end of more than two hours of classroom training — the same training the city’s officers receive — outlining de-escalation skills and current laws stipulating how police officers can use force, what force they can use, including deadly force, and when.

The post’s author receives gun handling instructions from EPD Officer Ron Shepherd.

The four-hour class’s main objective is to place civilians in officers’ shoes and “experience how an officer gets trained to make better use of force decisions,” said Sgt. Richard Lee.

After covering use of force case laws including Graham v. Connor, Tennessee v. Garner, which defines the use of deadly force, Scott v. Henrich and Bryan v. McPherson, I stepped into the simulator. Two of the three scenarios I went through were nerve-wracking but fairly benign, and I never used my weapon. Instead, I was able to de-escalate the situation using verbal commands, part of the “tactical communication” skills officers use to redirect people and persuade them to comply.

De-escalation skills have “really taken on more of a larger meaning now than… ever,” said Shepherd. “We want to try to de-escalate the situation as best we can verbally before having to resort to any type of use of force tactic or technique.”

In the domestic violence scenario, however, my de-escalation skills were not enough. Overwhelmed by adrenaline and fear, I missed a warning from the man’s partner that he had a gun. I never actually saw the gun he used to take two shots at me before I instinctively returned fire, one of my two bullets hitting the man in the abdomen and causing him to slump to the floor. My heart dropped to my stomach when I started to doubt he even had a gun. I thoroughly felt the gravity of injuring or, worse yet, killing someone.

Use_Force_Police_Emeryville-3

The post’s author feels shocked after firing her weapon in the simulator, while Officer Shepherd and Sgt. Richard Lee look on.

As part of my debrief, Shepherd asked me what I saw, what I did and why I did it, the same questions asked of officers. We replayed the domestic violence scenario, including watching a surprising alternate ending that had even caught Shepherd off guard. He pointed out things I had not heard or seen such as the gun the man pointed at me within close range.

Stress, Lee explained, affects people in different ways. “We get tunnel vision … we can momentarily lose our hearing … there can be slight memory loss” he said, in addition to increased breathing and heart rates.

As examples of use of force, the officers showed dash and body camera videos from departments nationwide. In the videos, including one where an officer’s force was deemed “unreasonable,” stress was palpable. Lee pointed out an officer who continued to command a suspect to get on the ground while the suspect was on the ground. While none of the videos were from the department, all sworn Emeryville police officers have body cameras as of August 2015, according to Capt. Fredrick Dauer. The department does not have dash cameras.

Spotlight on Use Of Force

The Emeryville Police Department has been part of the nationwide spotlight on police use of force in the wake of recent officer-involved shootings, including that of Yuvette Henderson in February 2015. The E’ville Eye previously reported that incident was the third shooting involving Emeryville police officers in the previous 40 years.

As police departments nationwide are re-examining their use of force policies, Emeryville’s police department is updating its policy. The renamed “Resistance and Aggression Policy” will “go through a thorough vetting and approval process before being published,” Dauer said in an email with the E’ville Eye. There is no estimated date of publication.

The current use of force policy from 2009 outlines reasonable use of force guidelines:

The EPD expects to start planning its next Force Options Simulator classes for civilians after July 1, when the next budget cycle begins, said Dauer. Interested civilians should email Dauer at fdauer@emeryville.org.

This USA Today segment details the FBI’s Use of Force Training Videos:

About The Author

has called the Rotten City "home" for nearly a decade and is thrilled to write about the people and businesses that comprise dynamic E'ville. Fascinated by people, Michelle is, at heart, a storyteller, evidenced by her work as an award-winning writer, marketing specialist, former journalist and photographer. Her passions include art and design, youth advocacy and opening doors to higher education.

11 Responses to Emeryville PD Force Options Simulator Class Outlines Use of Force Policy

  1. Tom Knight says:

    You are so brave! Thanks for sharing this very important and timely report.

    • Michelle Mendieta Mitchell says:

      Hi, Tom,
      Thank you for reading and for your kindness. I certainly didn’t feel brave!
      All the best,
      Michelle

  2. Vladislav Davidzon says:

    This is whole thing a total and complete distraction and a PR stunt by the police department. The problem is the basic assumption that police lives must be protected at all costs, even when doing so means killing innocent taxpayers. There is absolutely zero reason why taxpayers cannot demand that police officers accept additional risk to their lives in exchange for their paychecks – that is absolutely our collective right as their employers in a capitalist society.

    Government must run by the numbers, not emotions. If far more restrictive use of force guidelines result in the saving of 25 taxpayer lives and 2 more dead officers, that is a net saving in lives. That means such a policy would be absolutely morally justified.

    The problem is that in order to pass such policies, we must first wipe out the police unions – which by the way would also generate absurd levels of savings for the taxpayers. When Wisconsin eliminated the right to collective bargaining for most government employees, the taxpayers saw $5billion (that’s billion, not million) in savings. Imagine what could be done with that level of savings if we implemented similar restrictions in the Bay Area.

    Unfortunately as long as police officers continue to be allowed to unionize and thus affect public policy, innocent taxpayers – disproportionately Black – will continue to die needlessly in “lawful but awful” shootings.

    • Rob says:

      Police Officers are well compensated, no doubt. I think if we paid them less, we may be able to afford more of them and thus would theoretically lead to better public safety. Paying them less also might lead us to hire less talented cops and that’s probably going to end badly for us as well. Perhaps there’s a compromise somewhere.

      You’re clearly jumping to conclusions with the “killing innocent taxpayers” comment though. The EPD has shot three people in 40 years so they are clearly not the “bad actors” that you’ve been reading about. In fact the most recent shooting was a woman with a revolver that tried to carjack several people before the police intervened. Not exactly “innocent”.

      • Vladislav Davidzon says:

        The way to dramatic savings in policing isn’t lowering of standards, but careful analysis of the tasks to which we assign our officers. For example, social workers are exponentially cheaper than officers, by a factor of 10x; so are private security guards.

        Some tasks need to be done by sworn officers – and that’s fine – but that’s probably not 80% of the tasks they’re currently assigned which could be done by cheaper staff. Of course to even begin to have this conversation, we’d need to wipe out the police unions which are going to fight tooth and nail against seeing their work re-assigned to cheaper staff.

        Again – some tasks do need to be done by sworn officers – no question about that, but that’s probably 20% of the tasks currently done. The other 80% are currently grossly wasting taxpayer funds.

        Wisconsin has showed what happens when you eliminate public service unions – $5 billion in savings so far. The same absolutely needs to be done here.

    • Anonymous says:

      Giving people both sides of the story is a bit more than a publicity stunt. It’s the basis for a reasonable conversation.

      After one of the highly publicized police shootings last year, a number of respected black religious and political leaders took this type of training and spoke to the media honestly about the difficulty of it. I found that heroic. It was a way to say “wait, stop and respect that this is a difficult issue and there are two sides”. It would have been far easier for them to just pretend that every police shooting is murder as some in our community have done to great effect.

      For every police shooting, two questions need to be asked:
      – could the police have done anything differently to avoid the shooting?
      – could the victim have done anything differently to avoid the shooting?

      The current fad is to ignore half of this discussion. If you really want to reduce police shootings, you need to train the community as much as the police.

      Deescalation is a two way street.

      • Vladislav Davidzon says:

        The notion that “de-escalation is a two way street” assumes two equal players, whereas in reality that is not the case. One is receiving paychecks from the taxpayer, and thus there is really no reason whatsoever why an equivalency should be applied.

        In other words, when we’re hiring police officers, there is zero reason why the taxpayer cannot attach any conditions whatsoever to the paycheck. This is America and we do capitalism here – there is NOTHING that says we cannot demand our police officers accept exponentially higher risk of injury and death, and such demands are perfectly justified given the basic nature of an employer-employee relationship and the likelihood that more restrictive use of force guidelines will lead to a net savings in lives.

        If more restrictive use-of-force guidelines result in deaths of extra five officers but save seven lives of non-officers, that is a net savings in lives, thus absolutely justifying such policies. Furthermore, more restrictive use of force guidelines are almost certain to save money to the taxpayer in lawsuit settlements.

      • Anonymous says:

        If your end goal is to save lives, then you want to focus on what causes the death: the actions of the officer or the actions of the suspect. These two are, as you point out, not equivalent. Officers are trying to enforce the law and the people getting shot are normally breaking it.

        Yes, we can demand that officers do whatever we choose if we can convince them to work for the pay we are offering, but so what? If we took away officers’ right to use deadly force completely, we could guarantee that none of the 1000 or so officer involved shootings a year ever occur. According to your math, we just came out 1000 lives ahead, but that sort of misses the point that of these 1000 shootings, most are reasonable, justifiable, and serve to protect the public. In these justifiable cases, we’d be exchanging a police officer’s life for the life of someone who was willing to kill a police officer. That’s a bad exchange.

        Police, and particularly those in Emeryville, have an incredibly good track record with respect to use of deadly force. That doesn’t let them off the hook for unjustifiable shootings, but it’s important to understand and respect how rarely they get it wrong.

        If we want to reduce police shooting, and we can have the greatest impact by educating the public about how to behave during a confrontation with the police, then that’s what we should do. And that’s exactly what the police here are doing.

      • Vladislav Davidzon says:

        Anonymous, your last comment seems to be devoid of significant context.

        Amnesty International has very clearly stated that in no US State do police use of force guidelines meet international norms and standards. In other words, it is absolutely undeniable that the rules allow our police officers to kill people in circumstances that would result in non-lethal force in most civilized nations. (http://america.aljazeera.com/blogs/scrutineer/2015/6/18/us-laws-on-lethal-police-tactics-fail-to-meet-world-standard.html)

        The notion of “justifiable” is very deeply flawed. It is a well-known fact that many shootings are known as “lawful but awful” – meeting the legal justification but still potentially preventable.

        Look, lives can be undeniably saved by demanding our officers accept exponentially greater risk. It’s not rocket science. We need to disband the police unions, put in place civilian oversight with power to fire any officer at will, and put strict metrics on performance (ie either deliver results or lose your job). Corporate best practices need to become normal for our public servants across the board.

        There is absolutely no reason why police officer lives should be valued more highly than any taxpayer whom they serve, and we can definitely get exponentially better ROI for every dollar spent, while saving lives.

      • Anonymous says:

        Actually my posts are entirely about providing some much needed context:
        – we live in a city that has incredibly high crime rates per capita and incredibly low incidence of police shootings
        – the vast majority of police shootings protect the community against real threats, and
        – most police shootings are entirely preventable by the person who ends up getting shot

        There absolutely IS a reason to value a police officer’s life more highly than the life of a person who is behaving violently or threatening the community. The police are largely (but not always) the good guys stopping the bad guys from doing bad things.

        If 2 gangsters avoiding an arrest at their meth lab shoot and kill 1 cop, we have not as a society won because there is one less body than if that cop had shot and killed the two when they went for their weapons.

        The context of the number of guns in our society, the difficulty of the situations cops are presented with, and the fact that for every questionable police shooting there are over 100 murders by citizens are all relevant to the discussion.

        The problem is not easy. We need to acknowledge that the vast, vast majority of police shootings are not murder so that we can bring justice to those that are.

    • Michelle Mendieta Mitchell says:

      Hi, Vladislav,

      Thanks for reading the post and adding to the conversation.

      I would encourage anyone interested in the topic of use of force (or making changes to those policies) to become involved in the civic channels that could lead to lasting change. Emeryville’s public safety committee has two use of force agenda items for the upcoming May meeting. One appears to be the direct result of someone going to the force options simulator class (“Alternatives to Deadly Force After Attending the Force Options Training for Civilians Put On by the Emeryville Police Department”). The other has to do with the police department’s use of tasers.
      http://www.ci.emeryville.ca.us/ArchiveCenter/ViewFile/Item/2557
      http://www.ci.emeryville.ca.us/106/Public-Safety-Committee

      All the best,
      Michelle

Leave a Reply