North County Outlook - Community newspaper serving Marysville, Arlington, Tulalip, Smokey Point, Lakewood

Marysville police host training system


Christopher Andersson

photo BY CHRISTOPHER ANDERSSON Police chaplain and local pastor Dennis Niva, right, learns the proper technique for aiming a gun from Marysville firearms instructor Derek Oates, while taking part in a police training simulation on May 12.

Marysville police officers took training that not only tested their ability to handle life-and-death situations, but to handle the stressors of their job during the week of May 9.

The Marysville Police Department got to host one of the two systems owned by the state because one of the only instructors that can teach the system works in Marysville.

Because of that, they were able to bring the system to their jurisdiction, said Marysville Police Lieutenant Mark Thomas.

In the training, officers are presented with videos of actors in situations that could escalate into life-threatening situations and the trainee responds with actions or with their simulated gun, which shoots out a laser so that officers can see where their bullets actually landed in their simulations.

Police officers, city officials, police chaplains and other civilians were invited to the training to see what police officers have to know as part of their job as well.

"They were stunned, amazed, and caught off guard by the amount of information that has to processed in 1.5 to 2.5 seconds. I think that is the biggest takeaway I see the civilians get," said Thomas.

"Not only the realization that I expect you to process that information, but perform at a high level because of that stress," he said.

In the simulations, threats escalate quickly, and the line between seeing the threat and being in mortal danger is thin. Part of the reason Thomas wanted local officials to see the simulation is to understand what it means to be in a situation where force may be required.

"[In this simulation] I need to make the decision that she's a lethal threat, I need to get my gun out, I need to get rounds out and I need to decide which way I'm going to move," said Marysville police firearms instructor Stacey Dryer. "Make all those good decisions in 2.62 seconds."

Part of being able to make those decisions involves always being ready, said Dryer.

"I've got all sorts of different behaviors that you would consider paranoid," he said. "I'm giving myself choices, so that in the event five years down the road, 10 years down the road, I have a solution to what's going to happen."

"Outwardly, when you see me, I'm officer friendly, and I treat you with kindness and dignity and respect," said Thomas. "But inwardly I'm thinking 'what if he has a gun, what if he has a knife,' so if that happens, I've already evaluated my options."

"That will to survive is nothing without that will to prepare," said Marysville police firearms instructor Derek Oates.

The simulation also serves as a way to "inoculate" against stress, said Thomas. At a scientific, chemical level, officers have to learn how their bodies operate under that stress, he said, because it has physical effects like tunnel vision and lessening motor skills.

Christopher Andersson

Police chaplain and local pastor Jeff Hastings, right, learns about the guns that police officers typically use from Marysville firearms instructor Derek Oates, before a police training simulation on May 12.

"You learn how does your brain operate? The chemicals that are being dumped in your body," he said. "We educate our officers on all these ideas because knowledge is power. Knowing about how your body reacts under stress gives you the ability to control that."

Stress isn't just about performance for Thomas though, learning the best ways to live with it are vital to living a healthy life as a police officer, he said.

Despite retirement age being 53 for police officers, "the average lifespan of an officer after retirement is seven to 12 years," said Thomas, which he attributes to stress levels of officers. "The LEOFF 1 retirement program, that program is overfunded by about a billion dollars because there's not enough LEOFF 1 cops around to collect that money," he said.

Thomas joked that he hopes the next generation of police officers can bankrupt those retirement funds.


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