Citizen trooper academy: split second decisions

By: ABC6 News Staff

Reporting By: Melissa Randall


Rhode Island State police like you’ve never seen them before. Over the last six weeks the department has allowed community members walk in their shoes and try out the job for themselves. ABC6 News anchor Melissa Randall was there for the course and shares her experience into making some of the split second decisions troopers are faced with.

Shoot or don’t shoot? The fire arms training simulator putting recruits at the Rhode Island state police citizen’s trooper academy through scenarios meant to help the public understand real life decisions made on the job.

After a quick lesson from Sgt. Mark Gilson I’m was ready to give it a try. The suspect was wielding a weapon as I made my approach.

“State police!” I yelled. “Ma’am I need you to put the knife down. Put it down right now. Ma’am I’ve asked you twice put the knife down.”

Then it happened. The woman on the screen tossed the knife and reaches behind her back for what I can only assume is a gun. Without hesitation I fired my gun. After about four shots the scenario ends. In that moments I had chosen to fatally shoot the suspect. But did I make the right decision?

“The law does not require us to put ourselves at unnecessary risk. We have the right to defend ourselves and go home at night to our families,” explained Sgt. Gilson.

The policy states that deadly force is warranted if a trooper believes their lifer someone else’s is in immanent danger. While trained to eliminate the threat, Col. Steven O’Donnell says fatal shootings by state police are actually much less common than people may think.

“Not many people have used deadly force in this agency. And most policemen never do. If you ask 20 of them I bet 19–20 of them have never used their firearm in their career,” he said.

But if a trooper does believe deadly force is the only way then they will have to be able to explain that choice.

“You have to make split second decisions that will get dissected for years later and you are held to the standard of what you thought when it happened,” explained O’Donnell.

Firing a gun is a last resort for state police. Tasers, which are carried by troopers Rhode Island, are used much more frequently.

This was the 3rd State Police citizen’s trooper academy offered. It was attended by a diverse group of Rhode Islanders made up of attorneys, judges, religious leaders, community advocates, members of the media and other private citizens.

Other topics discussed in the class included, but was not limited to: how to deal with mental illness, officer safety, DUI fatalities, domestic violence and sexual assault and cultural diversity.

Rhode Island State Police are tentatively planning to hold another session next fall.

© WLNE-TV 2015