Yakima residents participate in "use of force" class with Yakima - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Yakima residents participate in "use of force" class with Yakima PD

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 YAKIMA, WA - Across the U.S., tension between the public and police has been high the last few years...and police in Yakima are doing something about it.

The department let the community step into its shoes, and reporter Veronica Padilla learned more about the day-long class about police use of force.

Yakima-area residents got an inside look on the science and human factors behind controversial police shootings.

"They don't have the ability to sit and wait because it could endanger the public, it could endanger them," said Lieutenant Chad Stephens with YPD. "Sometimes they have to take immediate action."

The eight hour class dealt with tough topics, like how suspects get shot in the back.

"Most officers fire at a rate of about a quarter second per shot," said Instructor Blair Alexander with the California Training Institute. "So you're shooting at least four shots before your brain can send that signal down to tell you to stop."

And police are always behind the curve. For example, it takes just a quarter of a second for a suspect with a gun to shoot an officer during a traffic stop. The fastest police can respond?

More than half a second...assuming the officer already had their gun out with their finger on the trigger.

It's a sobering fact, and shines a light on the sometimes unrealistic expectations the public puts on police officers.

"We're human beings just like everybody else," Alexander said. "We are prone to human emotion. We're prone to the limitations of our physical being and can only react and act within those parameters."

If you were a police officer, could you shoot a suspect?

That's a tough question to answer, but some Yakima residents got that chance. Veronica Padilla watched as a participant went inside a police shooting simulator, faced with the choice to shoot or not shoot a suspect given the situation. This situation specifically focused on the tough task of a school resource officer responding to reports of a student with a knife.

The simulation was of a high school student pushing down his girlfriend while holding a knife. The participant tries to get the teen to drop the knife multiple times. Eventually, however, the teen kneels down and stabs the girl on the ground, which results in the participant shooting the teen.

"The fact that he's obviously a teenager kind of hampers your reaction time," said David McAleer, Yakama Nation Attorney. "Imagine you're an SRO and you know these kids. But we as these police officers have to look at it from the perspective of this girl and this girl's family. How long are you willing to gamble with her life?"

"I was focused on the perpetrator guy, cause I don't want to shoot anybody," said a participant. "I mean, I'm aware in theory obviously officers are out to protect everybody, but I never really thought about it in that way before."

It's a very difficult choice to make, and most people in the simulations said they were hesitant to shoot. Others say they opened fire too quickly. Either way, the class definitely opened a lot of people's eyes about the critical decisions officers make every day.

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