Keeping it Real
Police Sgt. Ben Chapman of Newberry, S.C., isn’t sure what he’ll find when he arrives on the scene of a possible armed robbery.
The first thing Chapman hears is the sound of two gunshots fired somewhere inside the building. Moments later, an unidentified male subject bursts through a set of double doors and attempts to flee.
“Stop! Drop your weapon!” Chapman yells, his Glock 9 mm pistol drawn.
But the suspected robber keeps his back turned to the officer. Chapman has a split second to react, while anticipating the next move of the suspect. Will the suspect surrender without incident? Will he draw a weapon? Is lethal force the only course of action that can resolve this situation?
Although law-enforcement officers across the country encounter situations like this daily, the events leading up to Chapman’s confrontation with the armed robbery suspect were played out on a large projector screen with fully customizable scenarios generated by state-of-the-art computer and video technology. Not only could he run through the scenario repeatedly, but he could also critique his reaction each time. Those are luxuries the street does not provide.
High-quality simulation training technology allows officers to come face to face with the bad guys in life-like settings without leaving the safety of the classroom. Although simulation training has been proven to be effective, relatively few officers actually receive such training. The fact is, until now fire arms simulation has been priced beyond the means of many police agencies, especially the smaller agencies and those with very tight budgets.
But this is changing. The Small, Rural, Tribal & Border Regional Center (SRTB-RC), a national center for small, rural, tribal and border law-enforcement agencies across the U.S. purchased three low-cost firearms training simulators—each for $20,000 or less—for law-enforcement agencies in Ripon, Calif.; Newberry, S.C.; and Cass County, Neb., to use as training tools. Part of the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center (NLECTC) system, the SRTB-RC aimed to challenge industry to create a better low-cost simulator for smaller agencies.
The three agencies participating in this project sent officers to the SRTB-RC headquarters in Hazard, Ky., to learn how to operate the systems and perform successful firearms-training simulations with them. After testing and training officers on one of the systems for six months, each agency swaps systems with one of the others. That ongoing cycle was repeated until each department had an opportunity to test each of the three simulators.
“Hopefully, with comments from the individuals involved in using these systems, they can give the vendors ideas on how to change or update their system,” says SRTB-RC Director Scott Barker. “It will also give us a fair evaluation so we can distribute that information across the country to small and rural law-enforcement agencies. The primary goal of this demonstration project is to show these agencies the value of firearm simulation technology.”
How It Began
In the past six years, SRTB-RC provided access to firearms simulation technology for 6,000 officers in small and rural law-enforcement agencies in 39 states through an in-house system and Mobile Technology Demonstrator (MTD) system inside a tractor-trailer truck. This system brought simulator training directly to law-enforcement agencies who provide their own firearms instructor.
The problem with this system was that, as useful as these simulators are, they can also be cost-prohibitive. The annual maintenance costs alone for such an in-house firearms simulator and mobile system exceed the purchase price of the new low-cost simulators, according to Barker. Technological advances have changed the equation, and with that in mind, SRTB-RC’s MTD program has now been transitioned to focus on the more portable, low-cost systems.
According to Barker, these computer-powered systems are top-of-the-line and loaded with simulated video training scenarios that few small and rural police officers have been exposed to in previous training. The three simulators function in a manner similar to the more expensive models, but are far more portable and affordable.
“We are very appreciative of the opportunities this national organization has been able to provide small and rural law-enforcement agencies,” says Lt. Lawrence Burke of the Cass County Sheriff’s Department, following a training exercise on one of the simulators.
With 14 full-time patrol officers on the road in Cass County, Burke said the training will be invaluable to officers in eastern and central Nebraska. The department plans to use the equipment to train officers throughout the region and at conferences.
“We can do more here in probably eight hours of training and build more opportunities for law-enforcement officers to handle themselves in stressful situations than you could over a 20-year career,” says Burke.
How They Work
The objective of a simulator is to put a law-enforcement officer in situations where the officer must resolve a conflict based on experience and training, says Kevin Vermillion, technology systems analyst for SRTB-RC—and it must be done for less than $20,000 per unit.
An officer operating the system must make real-time changes in the situation and reaction of a suspect based on the participating officer’s commands and behavior. Should verbal commands not convince a simulated suspect to drop his or her weapon, officers have the option to aim and shoot actual Glock and Sig Sauer pistols, outfitted with lasers, at the images on the projector screen.
“There is always the possibility an officer could be placed in a potentially life-threatening situation,” says Vermillion. “The officer needs to be ready and able to handle these types of situations when they do occur.”
Each simulator helps train officers to depend on their judgment and training to react to high-stress situations. Based on the situation and the officer’s actions, says Vermillion, it’s possible for an officer to walk away from the training exercise without having to fire a weapon. It’s an important lesson: You can’t shoot yourself out of all encounters.
Lt. Phillip Reta of the Newberry County Sheriff’s Office says these simulators are more than shooting exercises. “This technology goes beyond that. It allows us to use our minds,” says Reta. “A lot of situations can be avoided, or diverted, to less lethal options.”
Detective Sgt. Steve Merchant of the Ripon Police Department agrees. “This system teaches a range of options, from lethal force to verbal deceleration,” says Merchant. “More than anything, it is a valuable teaching tool because we can show officers there may be different options available to them depending on the scenario.
“We may not want them to use a lethal option,” he says. “We may want them to use a verbal option. We may want them to use a control hold. We may want them to use a Taser or OC spray. There may be many other options besides lethal force. Obviously, lethal force is a last resort.”
The agencies that have tested these simulators all report positive experiences. “The more low-cost firearms training simulators we have out there,” says Merchant, “the more officers’ lives we can save and the more citizens we can protect.”
For more information on the simulator project, contact Scott Barker at 606/436-8848. If you’re interested in more information about SRTB-RC initiatives, visit www.srtbrc.com.
Advanced Interactive Systems
IES Interactive Training
Michael Cornett is the director of marketing and public relations for the Center for Rural Development.