EPD workshop uses class, computer simulations to teach about stress of officers’ jobs

Marissa Conrad

When the man climbed out of the car with a gun, Evanstonresident Jeremy Carlsen didn’t hesitate. He took the shot.

But Carlsen, 22, didn’t stop there. He fired again, sending theman tumbling to the ground.

When the man fired back, Carlsen ran — and ducked behind a longgray classroom table. His escape earned chuckles from 14 fellowclassmates, all students at the Evanston Police Department’sCitizen Police Academy.

Through a combination of computer simulations and classroominstruction, citizens enrolled in the 12-week program spentThursday night learning police policy for appropriate use of force.Although Carlsen and classmates had fun with the computer-generatedscenarios, they also got a taste of the difficult decisions anon-duty officer can face.

“We can laugh and joke, but this is one of the most seriousthings an officer is going to do in his or her career,” said Sgt.Ken Kutella, the instructor of the two-hour session. “This is not’Magnum P.I.’ or any of that baloney.”

Kutella, who has been an officer with EPD for 24 years, said theway in which officers use force is commonly misconstrued by averagecitizens.

He shared EPD’s “Use of Force Continuum,” a chart that outlinesthe levels of force — from verbal commands to deadly weapons –that would be necessary in potentially dangerous situations.

Although force only should be used when there is no reasonablealternative, officers often must make quick decisions based onlittle information, Kutella said.

“They don’t have a crystal ball,” he said. “All they have is aradio call. And 90 percent of the time, (the situation) is not whatthey heard on the radio.”

Citizens did not hesitate to interrupt Kutella’s discussion withquestions and concerns about when force really is legal, or whenand how police batons should be used. Most, however, said theyended the night with newfound insight.

For Evanston resident Patty Berlyn, the night’s most importantlesson involved rate of reaction. As Berlyn, 48, stood in front ofthe class with a quarter in each palm, she barely had time to blinkbefore Kutella snatched the coins away.

“I couldn’t believe how fast it happened,” Berlyn said. “Hestarted moving before I could even pull back.”

The average person loses 60 percent of his or her fine motordexterity when under threat, Kutella said.

For officers, he said, this means pulling the gun out early,even if the trigger remains untouched.

“People think, ‘What a bunch of cowboys,'” when they seeofficers quick to grab their guns, Kutella said. But, he said, itis this preemptive action that saves lives when facingweapon-wielding criminals.

“Reaction can never match action,” he said. “It’simpossible.”

Although Carlsen acted quickly, he said he wasn’t completelycalm after he faced the computer-generated criminal.

“I didn’t feel tense (when I was up there),” Carlsen said. “Butwhen I got back to my seat, I did notice my heart waspounding.”

Ron Walczak, who oversees both EPD’s Community Strategies Bureauand the Citizen Police Academy, said the use of force session isone of the most important in the program, which has graduated about450 people since it started in 1995.

Walczak, a retired police lieutenant, said he wants each citizento leave with a better understanding of the crucial situations thatface police officers every day.

“My hope is that the next time they pick up a newspaper and readabout a police shooting, they’ll look at it with a differentperspective than they did before,” he said.

Reach Marissa Conrad at [email protected].