Dara Mitchell doesn’t remember seeing the man she was supposed to be arresting pulling a gun on her.
Mitchell does remember firing her weapon twice at her would-be assailant.
In actual fact, she fired three times.
Mitchell, owner-operator of vernoncentral.ca, was one of three North Okanagan media members given an opportunity to play the role of a police officer recently at the Chilliwack-based Pacific Regional Training Centre.
Joined by four North Okanagan civic officials, and Vernon RCMP spokespersons Gord Molendyk and Gerry Kovacs, the media was given the chance to put themselves into the shoes of officers and see how they would assess things during some use of excessive force high-risk scenarios in what was called experiential training.
The group, which also included Cort Smith of CHBC TV and a Morning Star reporter, was taken to a massive blue quonset hut at the training centre, housed on the grounds of the old CFB Chilliwack.
There, they met Insp. Gerry Peters, the officer in charge of training, and Sgt. Tim Anctil, operational skills instructor, the man who would put the media scenario participants through their paces.
Anctil, a 33-year RCMP veteran, explained that participants would be given tools that simulate weapons found on an officer’s belt: a simulated pistol filled with paint ball bullets; simulated pepper spray and a plastic baton.
They would be put into a high-risk situation and were asked to assess the situation to see how much force should be used to defuse it.
“Part of experiential training is using tools, but the bigger part of that is the cerebral or physiological side of it,” said Anctil.
“The officers need to assess the risk before them, then take that risk assessment and personalize it to them. For some, they might be new on the force and feel they are at serious risk. Some may have some experience with the same scenario and feel less of a risk to the officer’s perception.”
After a brief – less than 10 minutes – training stint on how to use the gun, the media was placed into scenarios.
Mitchell was told she had pulled over a vehicle and the driver inside, played by training officer Const. Steve Henderson, an imposing five-foot-seven bald man with tattoos up his left forearm, was wanted on an outstanding warrant and needed to be arrested.
Henderson was totally co-operative with Mitchell at first. But then became agitated, got out of the vehicle and began walking toward Mitchell, saying through his protective helmet “this is not your lucky day. I am not going back to jail.” He then produced a gun.
Mitchell, wearing a protective helmet and vest, pulled her gun. With Henderson refusing to co-operate with her demands to stop and continuing to press toward her, Mitchell fired three times, hitting Henderson twice in the chest and leg. A third shot missed Henderson.
In her debriefing session, Mitchell told Anctil she only remembered firing twice and did not see Henderson with his gun. She acted in fear with the imposing figure coming toward her, threatening her with harm.
Smith also fired his weapon to defuse his scenario with Henderson, who came at Smith with a baseball bat and knife.
Smith’s hand was shaking at the end of his scenario.
Anctil called the reporters’ actions “normal reactions to abnormal situations.”
“If you think you are going to be killed, draw your gun,” he said. “You guys don’t have to face people everyday coming at you with guns or knives drawn.”
Each reporter was asked to explain to Anctil why they had drawn and fired their weapon, enacting what police officers are required to do if they are forced to shoot their weapon.
Each reporter either had vague or no recollections of certain incidents during their scenarios, which led Smith to ask a tough question of Anctil about the reliability of police on witness stands, especially when it may take some time for trials to begin.
“They need to tell their story the best they can remember it, and they need to be able to hang their hats on it,” said Anctil.
For Mitchell, the experience gave her a new perspective on what police officers face on a daily basis.
“It was fabulous,” she said of her use of force lesson.
“In a situation where I might have been critical of their actions, I think now I’d step back and think that the peril they face everyday is very real.”
The envy of other provinces, the Pacific Regional Training Centre re-trains the 7,000 RCMP members in B.C. once every three years in aspects of use of force, situation de-escalation and other job-related duties.