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Teachable moments

Russell Kolkman plays the bad guy in law enforcement training scenarios

By Michael Summers

michael_summers@fortwaynereader.com

Fort Wayne Reader

2010-06-22


Most weeks, Russell Kolkman is a mild-mannered insurance agent and family man with a steady job, a house, a car, and all the accoutrements of responsible citizenship.

But every month or so, Kolkman spends a weekend antagonizing police officers with the goal of forcing them into a gun fight.

Kolkman is what he calls a “volunteer tackle dummy” for local and area law enforcement. Basically, he helps the police with training scenarios. And he gets to play the bad guy — a belligerent drunk, a white supremacist, an ex-con on probation with a trunk full of illegal material — and his job in these scenarios is to force a confrontation.

He’s usually paired with a partner, another bad guy, and for the purposes of the exercise they’re usually wearing protective gear and carrying air-soft pistols — simulated pistols that fire little paint pellets, or “simunitions.” And yes, they really sting.

Kolkman gives an example. “So, I could be the ill-mannered patron at a restaurant. The manager has asked him to leave, and he won’t. I’m drunk or belligerent and just want to be left alone. The police come in, just as they would on any normal call like that. They’re polite and cordial at first. They ask me to leave because the manager said so and now it’s trespassing. I don’t want to hear it, I get mad, I throw a chair or something. Now I’ve elevated the confrontation, and the police have to take it to the next level. I’ll be very mouthy, very rude, very obscene and in-their-face, while my quiet partner pulls out a gun and starts shooting at them.”

And when Kolkman says he’s supposed to be rude, he not kidding. He’s encouraged to be, and that includes getting personal. If the officer is short, Kolkman is encouraged to hone in on that (“why don’t you just back off, shorty”). If the officer is African American… “I’ll call him ‘boy.’ I’ll be a total pig. I had a guy with a Slavic name and was told he was sensitive about being Serbian, so I picked on his name tag and made it personal.”

Just to reiterate, Kolkman is supposed to do all this. Training officers set the scenario and give Kolkman and his partner some guidelines. The officers entering the scene have little idea what to expect. And the goal is to reinforce how essential it is that law enforcement officers keep their cool, follow protocol, and maintain control of the situation when dealing with someone who is not playing by the rules. A teachable moment with guns.

Kolkman works with many different kinds of law enforcement officers, from trainees to veterans who need to keep their edge. “For really new, fresh guys, the instructors would tell me to back it off a little bit,” he says. “If it was a SWAT officer, I’m told I should go all out and give them everything I have. The scenario is tailored towards the officers coming in.”

Kolkman got the gig through friends, who said they needed someone who was a civilian but has some tactical experience with weapons and knows the language. Kolkman fit the bill, and says he’s happy to help out, even though he might get knocked around a little. “I’ve definelty been thrown around a bit,” he says. “One time, a guy had his finger in my face, and I slapped it away, and he just instinctively wrapped himself around me and threw me to the ground. I didn’t expect it, and I wasn’t wearing any protective gear, no mouthpiece… I just got thrown to the ground, and it hurt, and it happened really fast.”

But firearms are the main focus of the scenarios Kolkman participates in. “The police officers who do a really good job, they wouldn’t just walk into a situation and go to guns. They have a continuum of force they use. Polite and cordial, forceful… as long as the person complies.”
And Kolkman points out that there’s another benefit to the police in these scenarios: in the real world, they never get to interview the bad guys and ask them what they were thinking or how they felt. “But I can tell them what exactly I was thinking, say, sitting in the car as the world was closing in around me,” Kolkman explains. “’This is how much of a trapped rat I felt like, and how desperate I started to feel.’ And you really do feel like that, as you see your options closing off, and start thinking ‘the only way I’m going to get out of this is to go to violence’.”

Kolkman participates in these training exercise several times a year. He has a great deal of respect for law enforcement, and finds it a rewarding experience, especially when, as a result of the training, the officer has something to think about. “It’s a sobering experience when they realize that if a particular situation had really happened on the street, they might have paid for it with their life. This time, they were lucky it was insurance guy with an air gun. When something like that happens, a lot of the guys are really bothered by it, which is good. It keeps them safe.”

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