Brewer High School student Dillan Lee put himself in a police officer’s shoes Thursday morning to understand a scenario in which an officer might use deadly force.
Lee, 18, and his classmates role-played troublemakers at a traffic stop and in domestic disturbance cases. Representatives from the FBI and local police departments had designed the scenarios to give students an understanding of some of the common situations they encounter on the job that force them to make split-second decisions.
The simulations were part of an event organized by the U.S. attorney’s office aimed at informing high school students about the challenges of police work. Officers from the Brewer and Lewiston police departments, FBI special agents, and federal and state prosecutors conducted interactive presentations to start a dialogue with students about police work.
“I hope they’re learning that police work is hard, and what they’re seeing on videos does not tell the whole story,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Perry said, “and that they realize that police officers are trying to do their best in very difficult situations.”
The law enforcement agencies introduced this program, which the U.S. attorney’s office calls TRUST, late last year. Lewiston High School was the first to participate; Brewer High School became the second.
Nearly 50 students signed up for the event. They were divided into three groups, and each group attended a session conducted by FBI special agents or local police officers. In each group, students had the chance to play the part of police officers and civilians as they acted out real-life situations police officers encounter.
Special agents Alexander White and Mike Verhar from the FBI’s Bangor office ran the traffic stop scenario. Students played the parts of drivers and passengers in cars that police stopped for suspicious activity or for running stop signs. White instructed them that they were trying to hide drugs from the police and briefed them on the types of reactions they should have when stopped.
Another student played the part of the police officer. A real police officer debriefed the student beforehand, offering tips on things to look out for and scenario-specific background information.
Brewer police officers Joe Everett and Josh Gunn and Lewiston police Det. Tyler Michaud supervised the domestic disturbance scenario, in which a group of eight students role-played a group fight while two other high schoolers acting as police officers tried to break up the melee.
After both sessions, law enforcement officers asked students what they learned and answered questions.
“It’s a lot to take in at one time,” Lee said. He told White after the traffic stop scenario that he learned to “keep calm and let [the police] take control.”
Megan Friel, 16, said her favorite session was the deadly force simulation conducted by the FBI.
The simulation featured interactive video simulations of people about to attack police officers with guns or knives. Those images played on a projector, and students playing the role of cops were handed toy guns, and they were instructed to use them if the people in the video threatened their safety.
If students asked the people in the video loudly enough to put their hands up or pointed their toy guns at the people in the video, the simulation registered the action and the people on screen stopped drawing their weapons.
The FBI agents then reviewed each scenario, asking students if they learned which situations warranted the use of deadly force.
“It’s not easy being a cop,” Friel, 16, said after the sessions. “I have gained more respect for officers.”