Local news reporters shoot it out at Edmonds police station

My Edmonds News reporter Larry Vogel (L) and Edmond Beacon editor and publisher Paul Archipley draw their weapons in the Edmonds Police Department's training simulator. The pair acted as a police team, and were tested on how well they handled the kinds of situations officers face every day on the job. (Photo by Bob Barker)
My Edmonds News reporter Larry Vogel (L) and Edmond Beacon editor and publisher Paul Archipley draw their weapons in the Edmonds Police Department’s training simulator. The pair acted as a police team, and were tested on how well they handled the kinds of situations officers face every day on the job. (Photo by Bob Barker)

It was high noon in downtown Edmonds when I met Edmonds Beacon editor and publisher Paul Archipley. We grabbed our 40-caliber Smith and Wessons and squared off for a showdown.

A duel for supremacy in the local news market? A personal grudge? Did someone scoop someone else’s story? Is Edmonds not big enough for two news organizations?

On the contrary, it was a very friendly encounter.

We met at the Edmonds police station to take Chief Al Compaan up on his offer to let us try out our skills on the police department’s cutting-edge training tool, a simulator designed to put officers right in the middle of real-life situations to test judgment, the ability to make the right decision in a split second and, yes, the skill to handle a firearm appropriately, accurately and safely.

Bob Barker
Edmonds Detective Bob Barker ran the controls, subjecting the two to increasingly complex scenarios. “There’s no one right response to any of these,” said Barker. “The real test is how well the officer exercises judgment in increasingly stressful, life-or-death situations.”

Edmonds police detective Bob Barker ran the simulator and took us though a range of scenarios. Having both grown up in pacifist households, neither of us had ever shot a handgun before, so Barker started with the basics.

After instructing us on how to hold, aim and fire a handgun, Barker took us through some simulations.

This is no arcade game where your score is based on how many targets you hit. It’s a complex test of judgment under stress. Officers actually speak to and interact with the people in the simulation exactly as they would in real life, and must respond appropriately in potentially life-threatening situations.

“It’s designed to simulate real police work situations,” Barker said. “In many of these there is no “correct” response; the purpose is to test an officer’s ability to think fast, stay cool, and handle life-or-death situations appropriately.”

Part of the machine is a ceiling-mounted airgun that actually shoots fiberglass balls at the trainee. These hit just hard enough to sting, and add elements of immediacy and reality to the exercise. Nothing like being shot at to really get your attention.

After each simulation Barker debriefed us with questions like, “Why did you say this?”, “Why did (or didn’t) you shoot?”, “Why did you think this situation posed a threat?”, “Was there a better way to handle this?”.

 The simulator uses standard 40-caliber Smith and Wessons, the same weapon carried by Edmonds police officers. The simulator weapons are fitted with a laser mechanism and contain no ammunition clip.
The simulator uses standard 40-caliber Smith and Wessons, the same weapon carried by Edmonds police officers. The simulator weapons are fitted with a laser mechanism and contain no magazine. (Photo by Larry Vogel)

The simulations were fun for the first few minutes, but soon became very stressful. The guns felt light at first, but it didn’t take long before they seemed to weigh 50 pounds. After two hours, we were both pumped on adrenalin, had dilated pupils, sweaty palms, elevated heart rates and very tired arm muscles. And we were both more than ready to break for coffee and donuts and hit the showers.

While we may work for competing news organizations, Paul and I were in total agreement with Edmonds police officials about the value of the simulator as a training tool. Even though we knew no one was really shooting at us, the simulations were incredibly stress-inducing. We both came away with an enhanced appreciation of the complexities inherent in everyday police work.

“It really helps prepare officers for real-life situations,” said Chief Compaan. “And in the end that means we do higher quality police work, and serve and protect our community better.”

Speaking for myself, I’ll never look at police work the same way again. The fast judgment, never knowing when you’ll be thrown into a life-or-death situation, the realization that your life and the lives of others ride on a split-second decision…all these combine to make the job extremely challenging and rewarding.

My take-home lesson: I’m not cut out for it. But I’m incredibly grateful to those who are.

— By Larry Vogel

  1. Two friends and I had lessons in the simulator about a year ago. Sgt. Barker was very patient with us. As marksmen (markswomen?) we were not very good. I managed to kill a lot of vehicles, one friend was great at shooting buildings, and my other friend shot the hostages. The world can feel safe knowing that NONE of us is on the streets with weapons! LOL

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