VIDEO: I tried Delray police’s body cameras in ‘hostile training scenario’

Palm Beach Post reporter Lulu Ramadan (right) receives instructions from Delray Beach Police Department Training Officer Gerry Riccio at a body-worn camera training scenario at the department's Seacrest Training Center Friday, July 1, 2016. (Bruce R. Bennett / The Palm Beach Post)

Palm Beach Post reporter Lulu Ramadan (right) receives instructions from Delray Beach Police Department Training Officer Gerry Riccio at a body-worn camera training scenario at the department’s Seacrest Training Center Friday, July 1, 2016. (Bruce R. Bennett / The Palm Beach Post)

I’ve watched police footage in the past while trying to piece together the curious elements of an officer-involved incident.

As reporters, public records — police reports and dash, surveillance or body camera footage — are the basis of the reports we share with the public. We’re critical and we demand information, like body camera footage, to hold law enforcement accountable for their actions in the public eye.

On Friday morning, I was on the opposite end of the screen.

I tested Delray Beach Police’s new body cameras, which they rolled out that day to 20 officers. The department set up a police training scenario, in which officers played perps or bystanders and I, a former cops reporter who now covers the cities of Delray Beach and Boca Raton, played an armed officer responding to the scene.

The goal was to experience the benefits and limitations of police body cameras during a use-of-force scenario. Body cameras have gained momentum in Palm Beach County following last fall’s shooting death of Corey Jones in Palm Beach Gardens. Nouman Raja, the former officer who killed Jones and now faces criminal charges, wasn’t wearing a body camera at the time of the shooting.

Jones’ death inspired a bill approved in March by Gov. Rick Scott that doesn’t require law enforcement agencies to use cameras, but demands that policies and procedures be set for police and sheriff’s offices using the devices.

Palm Beach Post reporter Lulu Ramadan (right) participates in a training scenario while wearing a police tactical vest and body camera during a body-worn camera show and tell at the Delray Beach Police Department's Seacrest Training Center Friday, July 1, 2016. (Bruce R. Bennett / The Palm Beach Post)

Palm Beach Post reporter Lulu Ramadan (right) participates in a training scenario while wearing a police tactical vest and body camera during a body-worn camera show and tell at the Delray Beach Police Department’s Seacrest Training Center Friday, July 1, 2016. (Bruce R. Bennett / The Palm Beach Post)

On Friday, I strapped on a police vest, armed myself with a real handgun loaded with “soap” bullets and walked blindly into Delray Beach Police’s training complex.

The scenario: A man armed with a knife and a man armed with a gun were fighting. I was the first officer to respond without backup.

Here’s what I remember: 

» I shouted commands like, “Drop your weapons.” The men were squirming on the ground. I saw a knife. The knife was thrown across the ground. (Was it dropped?) I pointed my gun at both men while they shouted incoherently. One of them pulled out a silver hand gun and pointed it at the other man from the floor, just 5 feet from me. The unarmed man screamed, “‘He’s going to kill me.” I froze. I panicked. The armed man turned the gun and pointed it toward me. I hesitated, put my finger on the trigger, closed my eyes, turned my head and fired.

After watching the body camera footage, I learned at least four seconds had passed between my pulling the trigger and seeing the gun pointed toward me. It felt like a split-second. I begged the men to stop after seeing the gun, which I didn’t remember immediately following the scenario.

Without consciously aiming, my “soap” bullet hit the top of the armed man’s head. “Kill shot,” the officers later called it.

Here’s what I learned:

Body cameras may not tell the whole story, but they are invaluable to the public. My pounding blood and rushing adrenaline clouded my memory following the scenario. I was too shaken to speak a word afterward. (The first thing I said, in an audibly shaken voice, minutes after it ended was: “Did I kill him?”)

The footage filled in the blanks where my memory and sight couldn’t.

But, as is the case with all technology, the cameras have their limitations.

For starters, I closed my eyes and turned my head during the shot. That was captured by a camera on the sidelines, but not on the body camera. Anything going on behind me and directly to my left and right also was not captured on camera.

Overall, the experience gave me a perspective I think is necessary when working to uncover events that lead to a use-of-force incident involving law enforcement. Body cameras don’t tell the whole story, but the footage they capture gives the public much-needed, unbiased, third-party information when tragedy unfolds.

We all deserve to know what leads up to a kill shot.