State police's simulator lets cops practice responses to danger. We tried it, and it's hard.

Police officers often say the public doesn't understand that sometimes situations go sideways in seconds.

The Illinois State Police on Wednesday gave members of the media the chance to see just what that means and how its troopers practice for situations they may face.

In a darkened room at the ISP-Chicago District headquarters in Des Plaines, Susan watched as two troopers ran through some of those situations via computer simulation using the agency's Multiple Interactive Learning Objectives range system.

The scenarios - a traffic stop, a domestic violence call, a suspicious-person investigation - are controlled by a supervisor at a computer. Each has three outcomes: the person is no threat, the person does not comply with what troopers tell them to do, or the person comes toward the troopers.

The supervisor may tell the officers which one he is about to play - but he also can switch up midstream. The troopers' responses, including what they say, are recorded for review afterward.

“Our biggest and strongest weapon is our mouth,” Lt. Chris Jones said, referring to the communication.

The simulation helps officers improve their verbal skills to de-escalate situations and resist the tunnel vision that can come with a stressful interaction.

Troopers are judged on whether they are standing correctly, what they say and where their hands are placed. Afterward, they talk about what they saw, what they were feeling and why they did what they did. The program records when and how many times they fired, and where the person was hit.

Other scenarios included a reporter demanding answers and a bystander yelling at police while video recording the incident on their phone.

Using the simulator “gives (troopers) that high-stress situation without being in that high-stress situation,” said Master Sgt. Delila Garcia, northern deputy chief public information officer.

In July, state police began letting local police departments use the simulators. So far, 19 departments and 78 police officers have taken them up on the offer.

“The biggest thing we talk about is de-escalation vs. escalation,” Jones said.

Susan's turn

Reporters attending Wednesday's demo had a chance to try out the simulator.

Susan took two turns. One involved a woman in a small office scaring people as she yelled at a co-worker who had gotten the promotion ahead of her. It was resolved without Susan reaching for her gun.

When the supervisor asked what could have been done better, Susan noted she had a hard time getting the woman's attention, and she should have put herself in front of the scared victim.

The second try didn't go as well. In fact, it was deadly.

On a traffic stop, a young woman got out of the car pointing a gun at her own head and demanding that Susan shoot her. Susan told the woman she wanted to listen to her about what was bothering her and try to help. The woman pointed the gun at Susan instead.

Susan got shot twice before shooting and killing the woman.

The troopers praised what Susan had said and the de-escalating tone she tried. But they noted that she should have had her weapon out the second she saw the woman had a gun, even if just in a lowered position.

The whole encounter took less than 30 seconds.

Gang member's guilty plea stands

A reputed gang leader who authorities say set in motion the deadly firebombing of a Mundelein home in 2009 failed to convince a state appeals court that he might be innocent.

Manuel Flores

Manuel Flores, formerly of Round Lake Beach, is serving an 18-year prison sentence for issuing a “smash on sight” order targeting a fellow gang member he believed had stepped out of line.

That order led brothers Elver and Edwin Hernandez to throw a Molotov cocktail onto the porch of a Mundelein home on May 9, 2009, sparking a fire that killed 12-year-old Jorge Juarez and severely injured his older sister and mother. The target of the attack was unharmed.

Flores, now 38, admitted guilt to aggravated arson in 2011 as part of a plea deal that saw Lake County prosecutors dismiss murder charges. But now, in his latest bid to take back his guilty plea, Flores argues that he didn't give the “smash on sight” order and that even if he did, he didn't specifically order the firebombing of the Juarez home, invalidating his guilty plea to aggravated arson.

His evidence includes a 2010 affidavit from a prison inmate who claims Edwin Hernandez told him someone else gave the order.

The appellate court found Flores' claims to be meritless.

“As framed, (Flores') claim fails on more than one level,” Justice Ann B. Jorgensen wrote in the unanimous decision.

Despite the loss, Flores could soon go free. He's eligible for parole as early as August 2024, according to Illinois Department of Corrections records.

The Hernandez brothers - both convicted of murder - won't be so lucky. Elver, 33, won't be eligible for parole until 2093. Edwin, 30, is scheduled to be locked up until 2068.

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