Hide the women and children, little campers, because I’m about to say something at least slightly positive about CNN Newsroom anchor Carol Costello. (Yes, yes… I know. We have a bit of history with her here to say that least, but let’s keep an open mind.) This week she’s been at her desk touting an editorial and CNN video special in which she ostensibly sought to learn more about deadly encounters between police and suspects. This was done by taking part in some officer training which prepares law enforcement officials for scenarios where deadly force may be required.
A few weeks back, the executive producer of my show “Newsroom” suggested I take a police training course. “You’re crazy,” I told her. “What would it prove? I’m not a trained police officer. And I do not want my audience to think I am taking sides at a time when so many police shootings are controversial.”
Jonathan acted as my partner. My “Sergeant” was Kirby Scott, a retired special agent for the FBI. I was outfitted with a 25-pound, bulletproof vest, a gun loaded with pellets and a police radio. I also wore a heart monitor to see how my body reacted to intense situations.
My first “call” went like this: “OK, said Kirby.” For this first scenario: Officer is responding, which is you, to a domestic call of an EDP person. An emotionally disturbed person, who left his residence after threatening to kill himself at his residence. He is now at his parent’s home. Classic suicide by cop.”
Before going any further, this is the rare occasion where I’ll encourage you to actually watch the CNN video. It’s not very long.
Granted, the scenario doesn’t in any way replace the real life experience of being a cop out in the line of fire. The “building” is a cheap mock-up and she is accompanies by a Navy SEAL guiding her along. The weapons are pellet guns and she’s wearing protective gear suitable for a bomb squad member. And since her “weapon” is fake also, there are no real world consequences. And yet, when it came to the point where the negotiations broke down and the suspect pulled out a gun and set it on his desk, Costello froze at the critical moment and was “killed” for purposes of the simulation.
The suicide by cop scenario isn’t the same as dealing with an armed suspect who is ready to shoot it out with the police, but it’s still very real and can lead to dead police. They have rough decisions to make and in all too many cases, only a fraction of a second to make them. If nothing else, the unbiased viewer gets a chance to stand in the shoes of the police for a moment and see things from their eyes.
As for Costello herself, did any of this sink in? Possibly, but I still have my doubts. You might imagine that coming away from such an encounter – even an obviously artificial one with no real danger and no actual criminals – might imbue a bit of perspective in the participant. But Carol concludes her piece with examples of criticism she received from liberal viewers, emphasizing how she still gets it.
I did get some backlash on social media for trying this experiment. This from Austin: “Is this intended to distract from the current issues in Chicago and justify a cop shooting an individual 16 times … armed with a pocket-knife?”
Absolutely not. I will, most definitely, report the facts that surrounded that real-life scenario. Others wondered why I did not ask an African American actor to participate because race is an important part of the equation. A valid question as is that of gender. Would I have behaved differently? I don’t know.
This shows a lack of absorbing the most important lesson which could have been taken away from all this. Viewers complaining that the suicidal suspect wasn’t black or was a male just aren’t getting it. Skin color and gender are not considerations at that ugly moment frozen in time. The focus of the encounter is the gun and whether or not it’s about to be used on you, your partner or some innocent civilian in the area. And the failure to react comes with a price… your life.
Still, there’s a silver lining to most clouds and that might be the case here. Perhaps Costello’s reporting won’t change in the future and the default position for too many CNN anchors will be to blame the cops. But for the people who took the time to watch it, well.. they might have actually learned something. So props to CNN for at least airing the piece.