JEFFERSONVILLE — Jeffersonville resident Kari McGilvra said she's always respected the men and women in uniform who serve her community. But that changed a bit after putting on the shoes fitting of a Jeffersonville Police Department officer during this week's latest citizen's police academy class.

"The whole course has built my respect that much more," McGilvra said.

That's probably because McGilvra saw first-hand the kind of quick and sometimes lethal decisions officers are required to make. Standing in front of a floor-to-ceiling projector, McGilvra was armed with a gun loaded with a carbon dioxide cartridge, waiting to be dispatched.

She had just seen two other students attempt a firearms simulator scenario and how difficult it was to evaluate a potentially dangerous situation. Simulator instructor Lt. Glenn Jackson dispatched student-turned-officer McGilvra to an argument at a retail parking lot.

The scenario began and all McGilvra could see was the back of one man arguing with two women. Before she could think of her first move, the man whipped around, raised a gun and fired. That was the end of McGilvra's law enforcement career for the day.

"It was nerve-racking and then it just happened so fast there wasn't enough time to assess what was going on," McGilvra said after class, stilled amped from the simulator.

The technology is something fairly new for the department's headquarters on East Tenth Street. Jackson said simulator instructors can use the tool to help officers brush up on firearms and Taser skills, but the department hopes to start using it more often. With more than 300 built-in scenarios, that shouldn't be a problem.

One simulated scenario seemed to generate more discussion than others. A student was dispatched to a warehouse where someone reported a burglary in progress. Once inside, a man appears from behind a counter. The room is messy and dark.

The man claims he works in the warehouse and questions the officer, demanding the officer to lower the flashlight. The man shows one hand and most of his body is visible, but his other hand stays hidden behind the counter as he continues to question the officer and not listen to orders.

Suddenly, the man jerks his hidden hand out. The student quickly responds with fire, defending her own life. But a split second later and the room of students realize the man didn't have deadly weapon, he was armed with a staple gun — a joke that in real life would likely end badly for the suspect.

In most cases, students either fired too soon or too late, or fired when they shouldn't have. But most of the students agreed that an officer would have been justified to use lethal force in the warehouse scenario. Jackson said a reasonable officer probably would have fired his or her weapon.

Although McGilvra said she had fun taking a turn at the simulator, students and instructors couldn't help but refer to recent headlines. In the past two weeks alone, the country heard about the shooting deaths of two officers, one a deputy in Texas, the other an Illinois officer. On Friday morning, a Las Vegas Metro police officer was reportedly shot in the leg.

But given public criticism and lawsuits against officers who use their weapons, McGilvra said she'd be hesitant to fire a gun.

"I think because of the climate now," she said. "It would make me react slower."

Elizabeth DePompei is the digital editor for The News and Tribune. She has degrees in journalism and film from the University of Cincinnati and CUNY's Hunter College and was previously the paper's criminal justice reporter.

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