Oak Park public safety academy puts residents in police's shoes

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Shoot or don't shoot. Oak Park police are putting average citizens to the test.

They are asking them to make the kind of split-second decisions that police officers have to make every day.

Randy Wimbley was among those taking a turn. He used the same gun officers use, wearing their equipment belt and faced some of the situations they face in academy training.

It's a glimpse of life behind the badge. Welcome to the Oak Park Public Safety Citizens Academy.

A four-week class where 25 residents are getting a crash course on the day to day operations of its hybrid fire and police department.

And that includes the use of deadly force.

FOX 2: "What ran through your mind as that was happening?"

"Well first of all you get a little excited and you get a little scared," said resident Eugene Mattison.

Mattison has lived in Oak Park for 39 years. He's a member of a neighborhood block club and at times works with police to keep a handle on crime. For him attending the academy was a no-brainer.

"In this citizen's academy you get a better perspective of how the officers function and what they do and what they have to go through every day," he said.

"What we're trying to do is bridge the gap between police departments and the citizens," said Det. Robert Koch. 

It's a gap that's widening after unarmed civilians and people of color in particular, continue to die at the hands of police.

"Certainly in the wake of everything from Ferguson to Cleveland to Cincinnati, South Carolina, you name it," Koch said. "This is a golden opportunity for us to let the citizens know this is how we do what we do."

Including Randy Wimbley

He went through three different shoot, no shoot scenarios.

The first was a home burglary. His partner takes down one suspect and the other pulls out a gun.

Wimbley responds in kind just in the nick of time.

Lt. Shawn Tetler debriefs him.

"You got the round off first," he said.

He then fired up the second scenario of a mass shooting at a school.

Wimbley confronts the gunman but fails to aim down the sights of my gun - missing the shooter and allowing him to kill the student.

The third scenario is an armed robbery turned hostage situation.

The cashier's life is in danger there's no time to ask questions. Wimbley fires two shots in the suspect's center mass and the gunman falls.

Then another man comes out with something in his hand - it turns out it's just a phone.

And thankfully, Wimbley did not shoot.

"It gives the citizens a slight glimpse into the split second decisions we have to make when confronted with armed and unarmed perpetrators or just suspicious people," Koch said.

"I believe that sometimes the police are justified in what they do," Mattison said. "Then there are also times like in the simulator where you can't or shouldn't shoot."

Something Wimbley heard over and over is that citizen’s academy and that shoot no shoot situation is really eye opening. Although Oak Park police says it has a good relationship with its residents, it recognizes the importance to build and maintain trust within the community in light of the shootings of unarmed black men and sometimes children.

One of the detectives Wimbley spoke with said sometimes it’s easy for police to see how certain actions can be justified; but in other instances no cop anywhere can legitimize some of the shows of force we see on the news.