Before you wonder about my gun-wielding experience, be it known I do not live an alternate life as a law woman. This shootout was part of a Reno Police Department critical incident training workshop that members of the media were invited to. We donned our protective gloves and headgear and armed ourselves with modified Glock .19s with simunition –tiny plastic paint rounds that left a mark but not a wound. What we were armed with was a far cry from the average police officer, and was frankly a little silly, but very fun.
Now, in my line of work, I have found that you catch more flies with honey, so to speak, than with vinegar. I am an information gatherer and my mode of operation is genuine concern and a passion for what I do. I go into each interview and daily interaction with a mindset: be as kind as you can be and as forceful as you need to be. If, at the end of the day, my objective is not accomplished I go home dejected and upset. If, at the end of the day, the local police do not accomplish their objective, they can go home in a coffin.
Putting us through our paces, the Reno police training squad put us in simulated situations, just like the ones that Reno officers are asked to confront first in training and then on a daily basis. In the first simulation, I drove up to a masked man whose car had broken down. “Oh this will be easy,” I thought as I approached the man. How many people help others on the side of the road on a daily basis? It was just a broken down car. So, I just put on my kind and forceful persona and asked the man what I could do to help. Then the man got angry. All in a fraction of a second, he pulled his gun, shot me and I was forced to shoot back. Not before I had earned a nice little welt from the simunition. It was at that point that it hit me – no, not the fake round but a thought.
These officers go to work with the mindset that everyone could be a threat. According to my trainer’s critique afterward, more often than not an officer’s life and the safety of others around him comes down to who shoots their gun first. This was a far cry from my daily mindset. To the police, the people who are sworn to serve and protect, everyone is a potential threat until unilaterally proven otherwise.
I thought about a time when I had been pulled over, admittedly for speeding. The officer was forceful and I remember thinking, “My day has been bad enough. Why can you not be just a little nicer about this.” Well, I may have been a little forceful with my speeding self as well if my daily workplace mindset was trained to be one of self and community preservation.
In contrast to the machismo of the police training ground, I saw later that week a different side of the police business. Janine Grund crouched next to a desperate woman in October 2009 as a car teetered on top of her. Kristen Palmer and Trent Wood were rudely awakened when a drunk man drove a small car into their rental house and landed the vehicle on top of the sleeping couple. With scalding car fluids leaking all over her, Grund kept holding Palmer’s hand and talked with her about their shared experiences running track in college. What a complex and multi-faceted job police have.
Journalists and police work together when shootings break out, people are robed and victimized and the community’s safety is threatened. As I go to work with my mindset, I am thankful that the police go to work with their own mindset. Each way of thinking is a set of survival skills and each contributes something essential to the community.
Sarah Cooper is a reporter for the Daily Sparks Tribune. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.