Editor’s Note: This is part II of a three-part series on Law Enforcement in America. Part III will publish tomorrow. You can read part I here.

“But…if he hurries, he’s careless; if he’s deliberate, he’s lazy. He must be first to an accident and infallible with his diagnosis. He must be able to start breathing, stop bleeding, tie splints, and, above all, be sure the victim goes home without a limp. Or expect to be sued.”

-Excerpts from Paul Harvey’s 1970 newspaper article titled, “Policeman.”

Given the benefit of time, and hindsight, I have no doubt that almost all police officers would make the right decision in any given situation.

Hindsight is clearly not a luxury provided in real-time. What is a certainty in real-time is that an officer has to make lightning-quick choices that can have lifelong consequences for multiple families. And the outcomes of such choices hang delicately in the balance. 

Shoot or Don’t Shoot

Some of the Police Departments in the area where I worked run a citizen’s academy a couple of times a year. They invite community members, whether those members are passionately pro-police or anti-police activists, to help them understand more about police work and some of the troubles officers face. At times during the course, a Training Officer will run them through a shoot/don’t shoot simulator (it’s cool, by the way) to let them see how they’d respond in situations police routinely find themselves in. The simulation takes place in essentially a large room with huge screens wrapping around you making you really feel like a part of the action.

The results? 

Suspect pulls a knife and walks toward the acting officer: Acting officer shoots him.