Las Vegas Museum Lets Visitors Play Police Officer

29 April, 2018

A home invader is holding a woman hostage in her bedroom. A police officer immediately starts shouting commands, ordering the man to let the woman go. But the invader refuses and uses a weapon in his hand to attack the police officer. The officer then raises her gun and shoots the man.

The officer in this training exercise was a British woman on a visit to Las Vegas, Nevada.

The imaginary victim and criminal were on a life-size video image inside the city's Mob Museum. The visitor was taking part in a new hands-on exhibit. Museum workers arm visitors with a gun that shoots plastic balls and put them in situations similar to those police face in real life.

In this April 12, 2018, photo, Tom Coull, left, reacts as training officer Russell Harris acts out a scenario at the Use of Force Training Experience in the Mob Museum in Las Vegas.
In this April 12, 2018, photo, Tom Coull, left, reacts as training officer Russell Harris acts out a scenario at the Use of Force Training Experience in the Mob Museum in Las Vegas.

New interactive exhibits

The Mob Museum opened in 2012. Its official name is the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement.

For years, the courthouse-turned museum has told about organized crime and criminal groups, like the American Mafia, also called the mob. But visitors now can also learn about the complexity of the decisions that police officers face when they react to real life situations. Some crises may require the use of deadly force.

Parts of the Mob Museum were recently remodeled. The building now has an interactive crime laboratory and even a speakeasy area.

Almost a century ago, sales of alcohol were barred across the United States. A speakeasy was a place where alcoholic drinks were sold illegally during this period, a time known as Prohibition.

The use-of-force exhibit walks visitors through video and live role-playing events, including a meeting with a suspicious person played by an actor. Museum goers are given a police duty belt and a gun that is as heavy as one police officers carry.

Visitors first watch a video presentation by a Las Vegas police officer and are then invited to a brief target-shooting exercise. Museum workers tell about gun safety, rules for use-of-force and methods used by police. Visitors learn to keep a distance from a suspect, not to keep their finger on the gun's trigger and not to shoot someone who does not appear to be a threat.

Visitor Lesley Morris of London said, "It did feel real. It was the first time I ever held a gun. It was really informative. We don't have guns or anything like that in England."

Morris added that her heart rate went up as she walked through the exhibit.

Home invasion

In the case of the home invasion, visitors see a video. It shows when a homeowner informs police that someone has entered the home. Visitors at that point start acting like the officer and begin to see the inside of a home.

"Police," they are told to shout to announce themselves. The video then shows the bedroom with a man holding a woman.

Pictures hanging outside the exhibit explain the use-of-force policies and methods used by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. They also provide an official count of deaths resulting from police use of force nationwide.

Las Vegas police Captain Robert Plummer says he hopes the exhibit will educate and change some people's ideas on what police face when it comes to using deadly force.

Plummer told the Associated Press, "A lot of people wonder 'Why didn't you shoot the gun out of his hand or shoot him in the ankle?'" If you visit the exhibit, he added, you will learn that it is nearly impossible to do because there are so many issues to consider. You have to understand your situation. So, if you miss shooting at the elbow, what is behind it, he asked? Is it an innocent citizen standing back there, is it a child or is it someone else?

Experiencing crime scenes

In another part of the Mob Museum, visitors try to identify bullets that were fired from the same gun. They also can see pictures of a real crime scene from 2016 and things that would be collected at a scene.

People can play the role of medical examiner. A video screen shows images of bodies, and visitors are told to answer a series of questions to try to identify the cause of death. The cases are based on the deaths of famous mobsters.

And below it all, people interested in learning more about Prohibition or just looking to have fun, can visit a working speakeasy in the museum. The exhibit explains in detail how organized crime took steps to make, move and sell alcohol during the 1920s.

People can test a number of current and Prohibition-era drinks. Museum goers can easily visit the speakeasy as part of their trip.

"People want experiences," said Jonathan Ullman, museum president and CEO. "This allows us to take them back in time."

I'm Caty Weaver.

Regina Garcia Cano reported this story for The Associated Press. George Grow adapted her report for VOA Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.


Words in This Story

exhibitn. an object or collection of objects shown to the public

beltn. a material usually worn around the waist as a piece of clothing or to carry something

role – n. a part that someone has in a play or a situation

triggern. a moveable part of a gun that you pull to fire the gun

ankle – n. the joint between the foot and the leg

elbow – n. the joint of the human arm

scene – n. the place of an action; a sight

allowv. to permit or let

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