structors took team members to Western Heights High School in October for force-on-force training. Students were on fall break.
The weapons they used were replicas of the assault rifles and handguns tac team members carry in the field, but were made to shoot harmless paint-tipped cartridges.
Members of one four-man team wearing protective masks and body armor inched down a hallway during training, ducking in and out of lockers and doorways. The first man in the line held a large protective shield, his rifle resting on its top, while the team searched for a gunman — a role played by another tac team member hiding in an empty classroom.
The team commander spotted a shadow and whispered: "He's on the right side of the hall.”
Then a barrage of shots rang out from the gunman, hitting the team's shield as the gunman leaped across the dark hall.
Team members used hand motions to indicate the suspect had crossed the hall to another classroom.
They stormed the room using the shield as cover and fired on the suspect when he shot at them after ignoring orders to drop his weapon.
"Suspect down!” one yelled.
The suspect was shot about a dozen times and most of the paint bullets he fired were absorbed by the shield. One deputy was shot.
"I was the first one to the door, and I took a round here,” the team commander said, pointing to the pink blot on his shoulder. "No biggie.”
The tac team member playing the suspect said he did his best to act like a lunatic, since that's the type of person they usually encounter.
"As soon as they came around the corner, I just opened up on them,” he said.
When officers encounter a situation that doesn't require tac teams or deadly force, they can use less lethal weapons and tactics.
The Oklahoma City Police Department has 158 tasers and 35 bean bag shotguns in the field and officers must take training courses that are more about decision-making than actually firing the weapons.
"It gives us something between lethal and verbal confrontation,” said Master Sgt. Bruce Webster, who teaches city police officers when and how to use less lethal weapons.
"We're simply looking for just a change in behavior,” Webster said. "If he's swinging a hoe or a rake and we hit him with a taser and he stands in place, that gives us our opportunity to move in and take him down.”
Webster said officers are trained to avoid shooting the spine when firing tasers and bean bag shotguns, instead focusing on the legs and arms.
"It's a non-Hollywood hit,” he said.
Not your average game
Oklahoma City police employ a computer-based training device called FATS, Firearms Training System, which uses a laser-guided handgun and a large video screen to train officers in use-of-force judgment.
The instructor controls what the characters on the screen do and requires trainees to interact with the virtual characters and make the split-second decisions that are the difference between saving a life or losing one.
"It's difficult to think, speak and coordinate your actions at one time,” Ellis said. "We teach how to with FATS.”
In one scenario, the trainee is dispatched to a domestic disturbance where a wife is reported to have stabbed her husband. The intoxicated woman exits the house and verbally threatens the training officer, then reaches into her back pocket and produces — a whiskey bottle.
The trainee fails the drill if shots are fired.
"When we talk about weapons, people think it's about shooting and it's about killing people and it's about stuff you see in Hollywood. It's not,” Ellis said.