To shoot or not to shoot was the question court security officers and transport deputies wrestled with Wednesday at National Park College.
The decisions weren't made in a real-life context but during a series of high-stress scenarios depicted by NPC's firearms training simulator. It tests split-second decision making at a safe remove from the life-threatening situations it recreates on the projection screen.
Critiquing the court security personnel's nerve and judgment in a low-consequence environment will better prepare them for the real thing, said Jason Lawrence, the Garland County Sheriff's Department chief deputy of enforcement. It's part of a plan to improve the readiness of those who protect the Garland County Courthouse and Courts Building.
"The more stress they have now, they can put that in the back of their mind and know they've been through a scenario like this, " he said. "That's what the training is for. A lot of it has to do with how the officer responds. That's why it's very important to use your deescalation techniques.
"We want to keep it as real possible. We don't want them walking into this like it's a video game. We're very lucky National Park College has this up for us."
Cpl. James Avant and Sgt. Scott Joe of the Arkansas State Police critiqued the responses, telling the class that while there are no right or wrong reactions, there are proven techniques for increasing the likelihood of a positive outcome.
During the simulation of a belligerent driver who's exited his vehicle, Joe warned against admonishing the driver to return to the vehicle. He said movements are more easily monitored when people remain outside, where it's less likely that they'll produce a weapon. The man returned to the vehicle during one of the simulations and re-approached with what looked like a gun but was actually a cell phone. His aggressive bearing caused several officers to shoot at him as he pointed the phone as if it were a weapon.
Avant told the class to give clear instructions that won't be misinterpreted and to look down the gun sights, not around them, when talking to someone who's wielding a weapon.
Avant put court security personnel through live-fire scenarios at the Hot Springs Police Department's shooting range last month. District Court Administrator Mark Allen said he hopes to get them time on the state police's simulator in Little Rock next year, explaining that security personnel have to make real-time decisions without knowing all the factors that have elevated a situation to the crisis level.
"You don't know the history or totality of events," he told the class. "That guy's wife may have left him. He may have declared bankruptcy. You don't know the past, but you have to make a decision on what you're seeing right then."
Lawrence said the hope is that the training will expose the security personnel to the adrenaline that inevitably surges when life-threatening situations arise, cultivating experience they can draw on when circumstances play havoc with their physiology.
"It's a key factor in any scenario," he said. "It has many effects on the body. It draws blood away from the extremities. The expression is your fingers turn to flippers. You also get tunnel vision and auditory exclusion. The more you train in high-stress situations, the less and less effects those have on you."
To supplement the protection provided by the court security officers who guard the courthouse and courts building's entrances and those assigned to the county's four circuit court courtrooms, the Garland County Quorum Court is considering an ordinance allowing employees with concealed carry permits to bring their guns to work.
They'll be required to complete the Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events (CRASE) course. Lawrence, a certified CRASE instructor, said the 90-minute course differs sharply from the 12 hours of training court security officers are required to complete.
The civilian course doesn't teach tactics for engaging with active shooters, he said. It stresses avoiding shooters and denying them access to areas people are using for cover. Using a gun in self defense is the last option in the protocol.
The simulator in the NPC technical center is part of NPC's criminal justice program, a curriculum taught by instructor Paula Ford that allows high school students to get nine hours of college credit for courses that include crime scene documentation and police radio dispatch.
Local on 10/06/2016
Print Headline: Court security officers get time on simulator