How long is a split second? Can you make a life or death decision in a flash? Can you take in all the data you need, accurately assess a dynamic situation and make the correct judgment – all in an instant?
The men and women of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department face that challenge nearly every day they are on patrol. It takes tremendous training, discipline and courage to face uncertain and potentially life-threatening scenarios each day. Then get up the next day, and do it all over again.
But it helps to have FATS.
FATS is not some fad diet. It stands for Fire Arms Training Simulator. Guests at the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Foundation luncheon recently were able to try out their decision-making skills on this interactive system. FATS presents realistic and fast-moving situations that simulate traffic stops and calls for service with varying degrees of intensity. It’s like a big video game. But it is definitely not a game. FATS is used by CMPD to train officers in the correct use-of-force procedures and to test their reflexes and judgment in unpredictable or openly hostile situations.
It is through investments in FATS and other initiatives that CMPD is working to prevent incidents like the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., last year. The root of the problem in Ferguson and other cities is a belief by some in the black community that police departments do not treat African Americans fairly – or even unduly target them.
But lost in the hysteria following the Ferguson tragedy was the fact that in 2013, of America’s 6,261 black homicide victims, more than 97 percent were killed by people other than police. Of the 3 percent of black homicide victims that were killed by police that year, nearly every person confronted was either armed or considered dangerous. The bottom line is that situations like Ferguson, while heartbreaking, are extremely rare, and are exponentially magnified by our 24/7 cable news culture. Regardless of the facts, the perception was enough to spark widespread civil unrest from which that city may never recover.
Even before the disastrous events last summer, the CMPD had been working hard to earn and maintain the community’s trust. The City Council recently earmarked funding for CMPD to equip every patrol officer with a body-worn camera to foster police accountability and public trust – technology that might have prevented the situation in Ferguson from escalating.
In addition to technologies like FATS and body cameras, CMPD has been focusing community policing efforts at the neighborhood level. A new initiative called “Cops and Barbers” involves officers in a specific community working with the local barber’s association to identify young people who are tasked with helping CMPD initiate a frank and open dialog in a town hall style meeting. The officers talk about what they expect from youth and the youth talk about what they expect from officers when stopped.
And a new Outdoor Immersion Program helps expose troubled youth to the challenges and benefits of the outdoors in an effort to open their minds to new possibilities and instill in them the confidence to conquer difficulties. Both of these initiatives have the support of the Police Foundation.
CMPD is committed to developing better relationships with the community and the results speak for themselves. Over the past six years, the city has seen a 34 percent drop in crime. While no institution is perfect, our police department is doing an outstanding job and deserves our support and gratitude.
Bradford Muller is Vice Chairman of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Foundation, a non-profit organization that supports CMPD.