January 20, 2005
Mankato, Minn. — In a basement classroom at Minnesota State University Mankato, a law enforcement specialist demonstrates a new computer program designed to help police face someone with a gun.
It's really hard to teach police officers how to react in situations where someone can be killed. Instructors can outline what to do, but that's very different then being faced with a real life or death situation. Bill Lewinski has been researching the issue of use of lethal force by law enforcement for more than 20 years. He says police shootings can have huge implications not least of which is whether some one lives or dies.
"In fact at this point in time the single most socially disruptive factor in law enforcement for American society is the lethal force use by a police officer," he explains. "Eighty percent of the riots in the U.S. are connected to a perceived use of excessive force by a law enforcement officer. Some of those I know directly are because of a misunderstanding of human behavior in lethal force encounters."
Lewinski heads the FORCE Science Research Center at Minnesota State University in Mankato. His specialty has kept him busy. Lewinski says there hasn't been much research into the what actually happens during a lethal confrontation and laying down rules and regulations only go so far.
"What we know is to mandate something works to a certain degree but then beyond that you have to train it especially if you're looking at human behavior in high stress encounters," says Lewinski.
So back in August, Lewinski met with executives at Colorado based IES Interactive Training. The company specializes in educational programs for law enforcement. Lewinski says he convinced IES to supply the FORCE Center with its latest gizmo known as MILO.
It's a computer program that runs an interactive movie. A scenario flashes on a screen or wall and the student plays along using a training gun linked to the computer. MILO tracks any shots fired.
The program can also respond to verbal commands and changes in lighting, which are both considered key factors in many police related shootings.
Todd Brown works for IES. He demonstrates how MILO works, calling up a Columbine-like scenario where a student gunman has stormed a middle school. Brown communicates with other officers on the screen and eventually finds himself face to face with the shooter.
Brown repeatedly orders the young man on the screen to put down his weapon. The youngster shouts back and a firefight ensues. Brown kills the shooter.
MILO can run countless other situations including burglaries and road side pullovers and the program also comes equipped with a camera that can be trained on the police officer or student. The instructors can then use the resulting video to show officers how they reacted during the situation and give them tips on what might work better.
Bill Lewinski says the data that he'll be able to collect from the new program will shed some light on how to prevent police shootings. He predicts within six months the program will yield some meaningful results. He says in roughly the same time frame he plans to take MILO on the road, camping out with the L.A.P.D. and other major law enforcement agencies around the country.