Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Deciding when, how to use deadly force can be tricky, lethal

When the huddle of kids in the video parted to reveal a girl sitting on a step with a gun to her head, I was relieved.

After all those thugs who needed to be shot, here was a character I knew how to deal with: Talk to her; negotiate.

Just when I thought I was making progress — putting my pistol on the floor, telling her about all the people in her life who cared — she aimed the gun at me and blew me away.

"You're dead, Dan," said Lt. Michael Burzumato, who led me through Wednesday morning's session on the Hernando County Sheriff's Office PRISim simulator.

The simulator could be compared to a large video game, but shouldn't be because its purpose is too serious: letting deputies practice how — and whether — to fire their guns.

And the circumstances that led to my visit weren't just serious, but tragic.

Sheriff Al Nienhuis had invited me to go through the training last week after awarding a Hernando deputy and a Tampa police officer the Medal of Valor for their actions in last October's shooting and killing of Inga Marie Swanson, a naked, disoriented woman pointing an unloaded pistol.

He wanted to show me how difficult it is to make life-and-death decisions when you're looking down the barrel of a gun, or at least the video image of a gun's barrel.

Sure enough, it is difficult. And I'm not very good at it.

But, really, I never figured I would be, not the way a cop is good at it. Most of you probably wouldn't be either, even if you have a gun, even if you've been to a firing range to learn how to use it.

That's because law enforcement officers almost certainly have more training with weapons than you do. They're also taught to always be on guard, to see everyone as a potential threat.

"You never know what people are capable of," said Deputy Kelly Brown, a full-time law enforcement trainer.

I don't think that way. And after running through all of the video scenes, I was glad I don't have to — that I could leave protection to the professionals.

The simulator is a dim, curtained-off space about the size of a racquetball court in a corrugated steel building behind Sheriff's Office headquarters in Brooksville.

Brown sat in a balcony, where he could project different scenarios on a large screen and choose from several alternate endings.

Burzumato stood with me, describing the scene before each video, and afterward telling me what I'd done right or, more often, wrong.

The first image on the screen was of a man in a parking lot, trying to pry open a car window with a long, lethal-looking knife. I told him to put it down, which he did. But then he pulled out a gun and started firing.

Brown, replaying the video, was able to show that the second of the laser-beam shots from my refitted Glock pistol had hit the car burglar/gunman — which I didn't think was too bad.

But after talking with Burzumato, I realized how lucky I was that a cannon that normally fires stinging plastic balls to simulate return fire was on the blink. I would have been nailed.

I'd walked directly up to the car, Burzumato said, while I should have crouched and moved from side to side. And I didn't even try to take cover behind a 55-gallon drum that is in the simulation room just for that purpose.

As time went on, I got better at moving and hiding, worse at shooting.

Entering the scene of a mass shooting, I neglected to ask the fleeing people where the gun-wielding madman might be.

After I was shot, it didn't occur to me that there might be a second. There was, and he shot me, too.

And how did I do at shooting them?

"Bam! You got the electrical outlet," Burzumato said during the replay.

"You got the elevator door ... a door frame ... there's that door frame again."

I was better off when the situation called for holding my fire. A foul-tempered homeless man, huddled under a sheet of cardboard, pulled out a dark object that turned out to be a beer bottle, not a pistol.

"You made the right decision; you didn't shoot him," Burzumato said, adding that I should have taken the initiative to pull away the cardboard.

After approaching a car full of rowdy teenagers, I also refrained from shooting a scary-looking passenger who was wielding only a cell phone.

But not firing when it's called for can sometimes be worse than firing when it isn't, Burzumato said.

That 11-year-old girl on the stairs who shot me "is now wandering around school with a weapon," he said. "What's to stop her from going into English class and smoking Mrs. Jones and 11 kids? ... And you, Deputy Dan, had the opportunity to stop it."

I'm not a deputy, of course, which is a good thing all around.

Deciding when, how to use deadly force can be tricky, lethal 02/21/13 [Last modified: Thursday, February 21, 2013 10:24pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Police take boy out of home where sister was shot

    News

    TAMPA — Lizette Hernandez watched a Tampa police officer remove her 19-month-old son from her in-laws' house, the same home where earlier this month her 4-year-old daughter was shot to death.

    Nelly Zoller snuggles with her grandfather's dog, Venus. Her father says she went looking for candy in her grandmother's purse and found a gun instead. [Facebook]
  2. Rick Scott announces support for new legislation, $50 million to fight opioid crisis

    State Roundup

    Gov. Rick Scott announced Tuesday that he is calling for a series of new proposals to fight the opioid epidemic in Florida, including $50 million in new funding.

    Gov. Rick Scott announced on Sept. 26, 2017, that he is calling for a series of new proposals to fight the opioid epidemic in Florida, including $50 million in new funding. [Associated Press file photo]
  3. Republicans to unveil broad tax cuts Wednesday, put off tough decisions

    Business

    President Donald Trump and top Republicans will promise a package of sweeping tax cuts for companies and individuals, the Washington Post reports, but the GOP leaders will stop short of labeling many of the tax breaks they hope to strip away, putting off controversial decisions that threaten to sink the party's tax …

    President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in the Rose Garden of the White House, Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017, in Washington. [Alex Brandon | Associated Press]
  4. Double your fun: Twitter's testing a 280-character limit for tweets

    News

    Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey last year made a definitive announcement about the company's famous 140-character count amid rumors that the firm would substantially relax the limit. "It's staying," Dorsey told the "Today" show's Matt Lauer. "It's a good constraint for us."

    In this 2013, file photo, the Twitter logo appears on an updated phone post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. [AP photo]
  5. Dead woman with sun tattoo found near elementary school

    News

    TAMPA --- She had a tattoo of a sun on her abdomen, with the words "The World is Mine."