SFPD invites media to partake in police academy training simulator

SFPD's use of force policies have come under fire in recent years after a rash of deadly officer-involved shootings, including the killing of Mario Woods in 2015.

Since then, the department has undergone sweeping policy changes.

On Monday, SFPD invited KTVU to be a part of the training that officers undergo when they enter the police academy and the refresher course that the rest of the department must take every two years.

KTVU's Tara Moriarty experienced what it was like for those officers who will have to make real life split-second decisions nearly every day of their careers.

First a group of reporters were given a 40 minute briefing on use of force policies. Then they were led into a room with a large video simulator. Objects like a mock light pole, fire hydrant and metal barrel are scattered throughout the room in case the trainee wishes to take cover.

"Most people don't realize how quickly things evolve. You can go from being a very static subject and compliant to attacking you on a moment's notice," "Sgt. Steven Pomatto, who teaches the course.

After a string of deadly officer-involved shootings two years ago, the Department of Justice starting reviewing SFPD's policies and made more than 270 recommendations for change.

Today they allowed Moriarty to try out the simulator. She was provided with armed with a replica baton, pepper spray and a gun.

"You're responding to a call of a subject who wants to commit suicide," was the first scenario.

A woman walks out of the house and within seven seconds, the situation becomes potentially deadly. As the woman yells in distress, Moriarty asks her what's going on and realizes that the woman is armed with gun.

Moriarty grabs her gun and hides behind a mock telephone pole.

"Put the gun on the floor and then we can talk about it!" yells Moriarty.

After several minutes of coaxing, Moriarty and her partner (Pomatto) are able to get the subject to surrender her weapon.

"Historically in the infantile stages of the department we would converge on subjects a lot quicker but now creating time, creating distance putting things between us. We’re able to tactically communicate with subjects and get them to comply much quicker," said Pomatto.

"Since January until August 31st, we've had 11,082 calls specifically for mentally disturbed persons and about 17, 700 calls related to well-being checks," said Officer Jenn Nguyen.

Even though the scenarios aren't real, the adrenaline rush is real.

"I talked to the janitor, he said there's a guy with a baseball bat sounds like he's really pissed- you take point, I got rear guard," said the officer in the training video.

In Moriarty's second scenario, she freezes up. Her partner fires his weapon, killing a man who is beating a woman. Moriarty said she was worried that she might kill the woman, but Pomatto said in that instance, an officer would have no choice but to shoot.

"He was beating somebody to death with a baseball bat, I saved his life," said Sgt. Pomatto.

Moriarty said while the training and the career of being a police officer is interesting, she'll stick to her day job.

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