Bucs Rookies Learn Perception Isn’t Always Reality During Visit to Tampa Police Department

View photos of the 2019 Rookies as they visit the Tampa Police Department's Citizens Academy.

“This really isn’t for everyone.”

That was uttered by multiple Buccaneers rookies during a debriefing period following a day of police training simulations at the Tampa Police Department Citizens Academy that included a newfound understanding of what police go through on a daily basis. Officers put the players through an abbreviated version of the full Citizens Academy programming by having them re-enact traffic stops outside and go through various scenarios ranging from active shooter situations to disorderly conduct in a classroom simulator.

After one screen simulation where deadly force was needed, kicker Matt Gay was asked what he was thinking about when he decided to use his simulated weapon.

“I’ve got a kid on the way,” he said.

It perfectly captured what men and women on the police force go through every day – except their situations are real. Though many parallels were drawn throughout the day of the things both officers and professional athletes face, such as inaccurate public perception, quick decision-making skills and being under a microscope, the players remarked afterward how the work police officers do is real pressure. They just play football.

“What we do on the field, you have split seconds to make decisions, but no one is dying on the outcome,” Gay said. “It’s more serious here and it just kind of puts it in perspective on what they’re going through on a daily basis. Their lives are actually at stake.”

Accountability was the theme all around, though. As much as the rookies learned how hard it is to be 100 percent on your game in the line of duty, officers also acknowledged that police make mistakes, too. They were very candid and open about issues facing police and encouraged the players to share their encounters and perceptions coming into the day. A lot focused on how to combat a negative image fueled by things like social media – another thing to which the players related.

“We have to make split-second decisions on the field and our livelihoods depend on it,” wide receiver Bryant Mitchell said. “And then the criticism and the backlash that they ensue and they have to take it. It’s like oh, they did this wrong or you did that wrong. There’s a saying film doesn’t lie but I guess today they proved that sometimes it doesn’t tell the whole story.”

Think about how many times you’ve yelled at the TV screen after a blown coverage or a missed throw when watching football and turned to social media to voice your frustration. Now how many times have you known the play call, known what every other guy on the field was supposed to do and taken countless other variables into consideration before doing so? My guess is not many.

Well, it’s the same with police work as it turns out. The officers don’t shy away from criticism, they just want it to be informed; a sentiment both sides agreed on.

Going through the simulations was like when ‘people who play Madden think they can play football,’ an analogy provided by offensive lineman Brock Ruble. The 6-9 tackle said his entire body froze upon seeing and hearing the blanks fired off by shotguns in the training exercise he participated in. He, and many of the other players, were simply blown away by the speed in which situations escalate and decisions need to be made.

More than the simulations, there was a great dialogue opened up between officer and NFL player. It started in a classroom where the players learned the real statistics behind police shootings. Of the 300,000 arrests made annually by the Tampa police, just three involve an officer discharging a gun. That was a surprise to many in the room and put things in a different perspective.

“I think they realize that it’s just not as simple as everyone thinks,” Chief of Police Brian Dugan said. “The similarities are amazing to me when you can slow down a video of body cam footage and instant replays look so simple. Life, when it’s happening so fast, it’s just not as simple as everyone thinks it is.”

The new Mayor of Tampa, Jane Castor, even dropped by to offer some encouragement to the rookies. A 31-year veteran of the police force, Castor spoke proudly of the city of Tampa, which is the third-safest city of its size in the nation thanks in large part to a great working relationship between the department and the community. She also playfully threw in some expectations of her own for the team as a whole – a Super Bowl appearance when Tampa hosts the championship game in 2021.

“No pressure,” she shrugged.

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