Photo courtesy of VirTra
Nothing is exactly the same as being in an incident on the street, but today's use-of-force judgment training simulators are getting darn close. And the more experience law enforcement officers have with split-second decision-making in a realistic training setting, the better they'll be at making the right call on duty.
"Shooting on a range is mandatory, but equally important is decision-making: knowing when and how to use force," says veteran police trainer Mark Filburn of the Kentucky League of Cities. "It's not about shooting faster, but teaching officers to make decisions faster to respond appropriately to a threat. That's why judgment simulators are great."
Law enforcement veteran Mark Filburn's second career is as a loss control specialist for the Kentucky League of Cities Insurance Services. In plain English, it's his job to do what he can through training to keep the officers insured by the organization alive and uninjured. It's also his job to keep agencies from getting sued.
A large part of that combined effort includes providing consistent use-of-force training with The Training Lab system from Ti Training. The governing board of Kentucky city mayors that approves expenditures is willing to purchase new simulators every three years to keep up on the technology because they feel it's that important for their officers.
And they're not alone. "Our officers needed the best simulator and equipment we could get to show our department judgmental use of force," says Chief Mike Jones of the Suwanee (Ga.) Police Department. A new training center and substation was recently built to better meet the needs of his officers (see "The Next Generation Firing Range"). He says the facility and in particular the new, highly realistic simulators his agency has purchased from Meggitt Training Systems makes him more confident in defending his officers' actions when confronted with lawsuits.
The company's tetherless BlueFire weapon replicas use wireless technology to interact with the familiar screen of scripted scenarios to further enhance realism. This makes it more difficult for anyone to claim a lack of adequate use-of-force training in a suit. But it's not just about saving money and protecting assets. It's also about saving lives.
"That's one of the areas where officers often get in trouble, making the wrong decision," says Jones. "Many officers are killed in metro areas just like Suwanee. As chief, I'm always concerned about that."
Today's use-of-force simulators allow officers to practice not just shooting techniques, but all of the skills utilized during any contact with a subject, including verbal commands and proper use and carry of all available lethal and less-lethal weapons. Reinforcing good habits through realistic scenarios can make a significant difference in performance on the job.
Case in point, "I heard from a police officer who went through our training and said it might have saved his career," says Filburn of the Kentucky League of Cities. "We emphasize that you keep your finger out of the trigger guard and give good voice commands. He got a call for a shooting in an alleyway at night and heard something behind a garage. He remembered, 'trigger out of trigger guard' and he gave verbal commands. It turned out the noise was a citizen taking the garbage out."
Without having practiced these skills in simulated scenarios, the officer might have made the wrong choice in when to shoot. It could have meant both the end of the officer's career and the end of an innocent life.
Share and Share Alike
Many agencies share the use of their training equipment so that an entire region can benefit. Simulators are expensive, and not every agency can afford its own.
The Kentucky League of Cities holds annual courses to teach the instructors for its 42 host sites throughout the state, and they in turn teach the officers of both their own larger agencies and smaller surrounding agencies insured through the organization. Three Ti Training simulators travel across Kentucky continuously, and instructors use them to teach the same 10 scenarios filmed for that year based on actual incidents and chosen to address specific concerns. But this type of program is not the norm.
One agency making available its facility outfitted with stationary training systems is more common. This especially makes sense when considering how often neighboring departments must work together on calls. If multiple agencies have trained using the same realistic, advanced equipment, then when they respond to a scene they can all be more confident that everyone involved will make the right decisions.
"We have a mutual aid agreement with other agencies in Gwinnett County," says Suwanee PD's Chief Jones, for example. "We have six fairly large municipal police departments and if they need assistance in training or need to use our facility, they all know they can use it."
Sometimes even the department that has the use-of-force simulator can't afford to share it for free, however.
"It is our philosophy that the more law enforcement that trains in our facility the better job we will all do," says Chief Roger Nasset of the Kalispell (Mont.) Police Department. Because of a tight budget, "there are fees to offset costs, but it is very reasonable," Nasset says. His agency has an unusual public-private partnership with a local range. Without its help, the department could not have afforded a new facility and simulator equipment. Before this, Kalispell PD did not have a use-of-force simulator at all.
The Michigan State Police also makes its judgment simulators available to other agencies. They use stationary MILO Range Pro systems from IES for training new recruits and for ongoing in-service. They also make the simulators available for firearms instructor schools available to all agencies in Michigan.
"On occasion our facility has been used by federal agencies as well," says Sgt. Ted Therrien of the Michigan State Police training division. "There is also a portable unit that we have loaned out to our firearms instructors in the field to use at their worksites, and that we on the permanent training staff take to the Upper Peninsula for yearly in-service training." One usually stationary IES MILO Range Pro Live Fire unit is mounted in such a way that it can be disassembled and reassembled with a minimum of re-calibration for portable use.
Whether it's used for one law enforcement agency or many, a use-of-force simulator needs to be updated every few years to provide officers with the best, most current training technology. And there are plenty of new features to make use of.
Branching is a key component of judgment training systems. The scenario progresses in different ways depending on the officer's actions. It's taken for granted at many agencies that such systems will recognize their actions. But not everyone has access to these training tools.
"Prior to this system, we used live actors for 'use-of-force scenarios,'" says Therrien. "If weapons were utilized, there was no immediate response unless Simunitions were used, which can be a costly venture. The Milo judgment system from IES allows for high repetition at minimal cost (after initial investment), and also allows for the use of CS and TASERs with immediate response." In fact, multiple officers with up to five weapons at a time can participate in one use-of-force scenario.
For additional realism, IES' Milo Range Pro with Microsoft Kinect can detect and respond to actions such as baton swings, punches and kicks, customized poses and gestures, tactical movement and positions, and verbal commands. It can be added to any Milo Range Pro or Advanced system with Milo range 4 software.
Meggitt's BlueFire weapons are an example of how wireless technology can improve use-of-force training. Unlike the old tethered systems, these weapons feel real. If the officer doesn't load the pistol properly, the system won't recognize the gun as firing at the screen when the trigger is depressed. The instructor can also create a simulated jam in the weapon, forcing the officer to follow all steps to clear the jam before re-engaging the threat. Meggitt's lasers will even recognize if the officer's line of fire comes in contact with his "on-screen partner" in the scenario, creating a friendly fire situation.
After the officer has gone through a scenario on a judgment system, the analytics produced provide a clear guide for more specific instruction to correct problems. Both the officer and instructor can see a colored marker designating the actual shot placement on screen along with different colors marking the point of aim and how much the muzzle moved in between.
This teaching and analysis can also be applied to judgment issues. "If we have a use-of-force issue and we review it, we can put the officer in similar situations he was just involved in on the street, and retrain or hone his skills as far as making decisions," says Suwanee PD's Jones. "We don't have to wait; we can do it the next day or even the same shift."
If there are consistent use-of-force issues an agency wants to address, there are different ways to find the best scenarios to correct them. The Training Lab from Ti Training comes loaded with 500 scenarios designed to teach officers proper use of force, but it also comes with authoring software so you can create specific scenarios to address particular issues. You can also have Ti Training come to you and film specific scenarios, as the Kentucky League of Cities does every year.
Another recent innovation is Ti Training's Stress Vest. "It can give them a pulse like a phone vibration or can go up to a small shock. We think that's a big jump forward in improving our training," says Filburn. "The instructor is able to activate the vest if deemed needed."
The company VirTra is well known for its screens that surround officers during a scenario and help envelop them in that experience. Kalispell PD uses the 300-degree-view system. "With the realism of the Virtra System, heart rates increase, palms become sweaty, and some people experience tunnel vision," says Nasset. "We regularly hear from those that go through the training that 'your head must be on a swivel,' meaning they are forced to pay attention to their surroundings, not just the threat or situation evolving."
Bringing it All Together
Even if an agency can't purchase the newest advanced training systems, it's important that instructors make use of what they have to make training scenarios as realistic as possible. Otherwise, they won't adequately prepare officers to respond on duty.
One way of doing this is providing physical objects in the training room that must be used during the filmed scenario. Wherever the training takes place, part of the Kentucky League of Cities' program involves using fake brick walls for cover during scenarios. This requires involvement from the instructor, who must change the scenario sequence to reflect whether or not cover has been properly used.
Another way of enhancing realism in training is coordinating the use of judgment training simulators in the same lesson with firearms training simulation, live-fire training, or driving simulators such as the Driving Force from FAAC that is made to work seamlessly with IES use-of-force systems. Using the same techniques across different training methods helps to reinforce what is being taught.
"We use our IES system to bring all of the troopers' training together in the use-of-force scenarios: patrols tactics, defensive tactics, firearms training, and report writing," says Therrien.
Acquiring and maintaining programs for use-of-force simulators requires money and time investments. But when you factor in the risks of inadequate training, can you afford not to?
14 Ways To Make Training Safer
The Tragedy of Training Accidents
Smaller Departments Require Greater Training Needs
The Next Generation Firing Range
A Full-Scale Faux City for Force-on-Force Training
Training Simulator Sources:
L-3 Training Technology Group
Meggitt Training Systems