When Denver Police officer Tony Lopez Jr. was shot during a traffic stop on Tuesday, it showed how quickly something that appears routine can turn dangerous.
Denver7 went to Centennial Gun Club and watched several traffic stop simulations on a training simulator to see what officers are taught to anticipate.
“You have to train consistently in order to have your skill set at its highest level at all times,” said Steve Brownell, Centennial Gun Club’s lead firearms instructor.
Brownell also was a firearms instructor for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The first scenario he showed us involved a driver on the side of the road, with the hood of his vehicle up. The officer approaches the car and touches the trunk with his hand.
“Mundane traffic stop, that’s one of the first moves an officer is taught to make?” asked Denver7 reporter Marshall Zelinger.
“Many times the officer will do that, to check the trunk and leave fingerprint evidence,” said Brownell.
If something happened to that officer, the fingerprints on the vehicle could help connect evidence between the driver and the officer.
A second scenario showed a driver get out of their car and then duck behind the driver’s door. At first, Brownell does not shoot, even though it appeared the driver was up to something.
“The use of lethal force can only be done when I’m in imminent fear of great bodily harm or death. At this point, I don’t know why he’s behind the car door, but I don’t see a gun,” said Brownell.
Not even a second later, a gun appears in the window area of the door and the driver begins firing.
“That happens in a matter of milliseconds,” said Brownell. “That’s why it’s called a ‘shoot-don’t shoot’ scenario; if I shoot too soon, he may be an innocent bystander and he’s just afraid of the vehicle stop and he’s hiding behind the door, if I wait too long, until he’s got the gun pointed at me, it may cost me my life.”
The third scenario shows a driver get out of the car and take a knife out of their waistband. The officer in video is seen backing up toward the patrol vehicle.
“The first action should be increasing the distance between myself and [the] threat,” said Brownell
During the simulation, Brownell shouts at the screen for the person to drop their knife. The scenario ends with the driver lunging at the screen, as though they were about to stab an officer.
Brownell uses these simulations to train security company employees and those obtaining a concealed carry permit.
“We’re using the simulator nowadays with the general public because there are so many more concealed carry permit holders out on the street, they don’t realize that if they’re involved in a lethal incident, it’s going to happen in milliseconds,” said Brownell.