AT RANDOM: Walking in officers’ shoes

It was a routine traffic stop.

It was a routine traffic stop.

The police officer noticed the aging grey van did not have a back licence plate, a very valid reason to pull the van over.

The officer slowly approached the driver’s side window, told the male driver why he was being stopped and asked to see his licence and registration.

The driver complied, joking that this wife was supposed to have taken care of the plate and the insurance.

The officer noticed that the man’s licence was also invalid. He told the driver he would be checking his licence through his computer and told the driver to stay in the car.

As the officer approached his police cruiser, he sensed perhaps he shouldn’t turn his back to this van. It was an accurate hunch.

The driver’s side door was opening and out stepped a man. Not tall in stature, but very muscular.

The officer told the man right away, pointing his finger at him, to get back in the car. The man, shouting something about his wife, slammed both hands against the side of the van.

“Get back in your car now, sir,” screamed the officer.

The man returned to the van and pulled out a wooden baseball bat. He held it like he was professional slugger Albert Pujols with two hands down at the handle and over his head in a threatening position. He moved towards the officer, refusing to put down the bat and return to the vehicle.

The officer, a rookie, had three weapons at his disposal: pepper spray, a baton and a gun.

For some reason, he pulled the baton. The officer kept yelling at the driver to stop, put down the bat and return to the van. The man refused.

The officer pulled out his pistol, hands trembling, sweat pouring profusely out of his chest and  pointed it at the man. “Please, sir, stop right now. Don’t make me fire my weapon.”

The man kept coming, bat poised as if to swing at a fastball.

The officer fired one shot. He was aiming for the chest, but hit him in the leg. The driver fell to the ground, dropping the bat.

The officer felt horrible for having fired his weapon.

The above scene happened on Aug. 4 in Chilliwack. I was the police officer.

Const. Steve Henderson of the Chilliwack-based Pacific Regional Training Centre, where RCMP officers go once every three years for re-training, played the driver. I was one of three media given a chance to take part in this training, organized by the RCMP, as a chance to experience what real police officers go through on a regular basis.

Led by Sgt. Tim Anctil, a 33-year RCMP veteran, we were given a 10-minute session on how to use the weapons. Anctil was behind each of us as the media played out different scenarios and would stop us when he could see things getting out of hand.

“You really think that baton will work against the baseball bat?” he said to me, chuckling.  I never realized during my five-minute scenario how close Henderson and I were to each other. Anctil suggested maybe I should retreat to find cover.

Henderson was talking to me the whole time, but I never understood a word he said. All I saw was this well-built guy coming at me with a baseball bat and he wasn’t stopping or dropping the bat. My hands were shaking, I’m sure my legs were as well and I was sweating heavily because I was terrified.

Anctil described firing the gun as a normal reaction to an abnormal situation.

No argument from me.

Even though it was only for one afternoon, I now believe I know how a lot of police officers feel on the job. I have more respect for what officers do, and I wouldn’t want to trade places with them for anything.

—Roger Knox is a reporter for The Morning Star