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My advice to defund-the-police crowd after trying out NYPD’s active shooter training

Now I know what cops mean when they talk about split-second decisions. 

I was among the reporters invited Wednesday to the NYPD’s Bronx shooting facility in Rodman’s Neck as part of a class on the use of force and tried out the department’s high-tech active-shooter simulator. My new advice to the Defund the Police crowd is, “Try out this simulator.”

It taught me more about policing in 45 seconds than I could ever learn in any seminar. 

My simulation was a burglary in progress inside a warehouse. The mission: to see why the burglary alarm tripped and the door was forced open. 

“What the hell?” said the man I encountered as he stood behind a counter with his right hand out of view. 

I asked him, trying to sound authoritative, “What’s in your hand?

“Show me both your hands.”

He did not comply. Instead, he said, “Congratulations, you busted the guy who f–king works here.” 

New York Post reporter Reuven Fenton participates in joint NYPD-ATF training Wednesday, June 22, 2022.
Matthew McDermott
New York Post reporter Reuven Fenton points the simulated gun.
Reporters were invited to the NYPD’s Bronx shooting facility in Rodman’s Neck to try out the department’s high-tech active-shooter simulator.
Matthew McDermott

I ordered him again to show me his hands. He told me to get my flashlight out of his eyes. We went back and forth four or five times like this, both of our ires elevating exponentially. 

“Get the g–damned light out of my eyes,” he whined for the umpteeth time. “I work here.”

Then it was a blur. He swung his hand from behind the counter. I heard a shot. I fired two shots. His head exploded, and he went down. Blood and brains oozed down the wall behind him.

“Damn, this is so graphic,” said Univision correspondent Damaris Diaz – who turned out to be a crack shot when her turn came.

I should have raised my gun the instant the on-screen suspect refused to show me both his hands.

Instead, I gave him the benefit of the doubt – and the first shot. I fired a fraction of a second later, and by sheer luck, his round missed, and mine didn’t.

And even though it was all a simulation, I felt like a failure for keeping my muzzle to the ground for so long.

“If you wait until you see the gun, you just saw what happened,” scolded my ad hoc shooting instruction, senior ATF agent Jim Balthazar. “You’re coming in second in a fight where only the first-place winner lives.” 

The agent hands Reuven Fenton a gun.
“If you wait until you see the gun, you just saw what happened,” the ATF agent said.
Matthew McDermott

In my defense, the last time I fired a handgun was at a pixelated duck in 1991. 

Balthazar was in town to teach my colleagues and me about the intricacies of use of force in law enforcement.

Officers are often slammed for failing to de-escalate before firing their weapons, for firing before seeing the telltale glint of steel, for failing to take non-critical shots.

For me, the confrontation was all over before it even started. Had I even aimed? 

“We want to have the quickest reaction we can, should force be necessary,” Agent Balthazar told me as the smoke cleared. “And you know what, if you’re pointing your weapon up at him and all of a sudden he puts his hands up, no harm, no foul. You just put your gun back down. But if it goes the other way, you want to be ready.’”

I’m glad I’ll never have to put this lesson into practice.

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