Tell, but don’t show.
That is what the police department said when it barred our photographer from taking pictures of a firearm training simulation demonstration at a community center in a Fort Greene public housing development on March 20. Cops at police headquarters refused to explain on what grounds it could ban photography — and even claimed the event that was advertised on a flyer sent to a community activist was not open to the public.
“It’s a private event.” said Lt. John Grimple of the department’s public information office, when asked why our photographer was told not to take pictures.
“Because we said it is,” Grimple said. He then hung up.
A follow-up call shed no more light on what danger could possibly be posed by reproducing images of a first-person-shooting video game system that cops asked the public to come take a gander at. An officer at One Police Plaza said that the department simply does not want pictures published of the machine or the officers who use it.
“We don’t know what the risk is so why would we take it?” said Det. Brian Sessa. “That’s an unknown risk. Why would we take an unknown risk?”
The event itself was a fascinating glimpse at the high-tech way that officers are trained about how to handle volatile situations and when it is considered okay to shoot people.
The demonstration took place at the Atlantic Terminal Community Center on Carlton Avenue, between Atlantic Avenue and Fulton Street.
The video-game training system projects a virtual city environment onto a big screen, which trainees face holding fake pistols that are hooked up to pressurized air tanks to make them kick back like real guns. A trainer runs the program, changing the behavior of the people on the screen as the trainees yell commands at them. Det. Joseph Agosto of the police academy led the demo for the audience of about 20. Each of the four scenarios audience members ran through in teams of two quickly escalated to situations of kill-or-be-killed.
In the first scenario, volunteers rolled up at a department store where the owner reported that a shoplifter with a history of violence was holed up in the bathroom. The people playing officer went to check it out and the suspected scoundrel confronted them in the hall and ignored shouts of “Freeze!” and “Put your hands up!”
Finally, the ruffian reached for a knife and lunged for the screen, at which point the players had to pump him full of lead or face a game over.
A traffic stop, a domestic disturbance, and an encounter with a baby-carrying maniac all ended with equally deadly force, but not before the assorted cretins brandished machetes, grabbed a gun from one of the players’ pixelated partners, and drove a car over another.
The simulator tracks the shots fired by trainees and calculates statistics such as accuracy and response rate. Of course, players get points off if they shoot the baby.
After the fireworks, Agosto explained what effects situations like the ones dramatized have on real-life police on the beat. The goal of the exercises is to induce stress in the recruits, causing them to experience physiological reactions similar to those they might feel in a real-life shoot-out, he said.
“It’s stress inoculation,” said Agosto, comparing it to vaccines that build immunity to infectious diseases. “We do something as close to reality as we can.”
Most of the audience came from Atlantic Terminal housing complex, which contains the community center. Many said they appreciated the boys and girls in blue coming out.
“They’re giving people insight about what they’re going through,” said Joshua Hidalgo, who tried out the knife-wielding shoplifter scenario and landed a slug in the perp. “When you’re put on the spot, you don’t know what to say, or what the guy’s going to do.”
Despite the ban on photographs by top cops across the Brooklyn Bridge, officers from the 88th Precinct said the whole idea is to show the world how they operate.
“We want to make sure that we’re working in partnership with the community,” said Deputy Inspector Scott Henderson, commanding officer of the 88th Precinct. “This gives people a different perspective on what we do.“