The first law enforcement simulators were 16 mm projectors that flickered their filmed images onto sheets strung across shooting ranges. When the bad guy went for his gun, the officer had to fire and then await the judgement of his trainer as to whether it was a good shoot.
Today's simulators are high-tech computer systems with digital projectors that play complex interactive scenarios. They are designed not only to teach officers when and how to shoot guns and less-lethal weapons but also how to talk to suspects to avoid escalation and confrontation.
But the technology is not the critical element in a simulator training program, the trainer is. It is the trainer's eye for detail, teaching skills, and creativity that make a simulator training program effective.
The following is a look at how simulators are being used at four agencies, how the trainers who run these machines approach their jobs, the lessons they teach, and the equipment they use.
Biloxi (Miss.) Police Department
For a little more than two years Sgt. Klint Krieger has been running veterans, recruits, and even Explorers through a variety of scenarios on the Biloxi (Miss.) Police Department's Meggitt (formerly FATS) simulator.
Krieger, the department's training officer, uses the Meggitt Law Enforcement Trainer portable simulator system as both a force option training tool and for basic firearms training. "We hire people sometimes who have no experience with firearms whatsoever; some have never even touched a gun," Krieger says. "So we'll do at least two or three days of simulator training before we go live on the range."
Biloxi PD's Meggitt system has some features that Krieger says are very useful for remedial training. "We have sensors on the weapons that measure grip pressure and trigger pressure," he explains. "The sensors help us identify problems with the shooters' fundamentals."
Force options available in Biloxi PD's simulator training include a Glock 17, a shotgun, an AR-15 platform rifle, TASERs, OC, and even an IR flashlight. "I like them to have every option that they would have on the street," Krieger says. "But if they don't have access to that weapon on duty, they don't get it in the simulator."
All of the weapons are untethered using Meggitt's BlueFire technology that allows trainers to induce weapons malfunctions using wireless BlueTooth signals. Krieger admits that at first BlueFire was a bit buggy. "But Meggitt worked with us, and it's gotten a lot better. We haven't had any problems now in the third generation, and the customer support has been really good."
Overall, Krieger has been very pleased with the Meggitt simulator. "I really like its versatility," he says." Not only do you have all of the force option scenarios, you can actually go in and replicate your qualification course of fire."
Meggitt Law Enforcement Trainer (LET)
Meggitt Training Systems' LET is designed to teach both shoot/don’t shoot decision making and basic firearms skills. Available weapons include basic patrol tools, rifles, and even subguns. Trainers who use the system give it high points for its weapon sensors that tell the instructors key information about the students’ shooting techniques, including cant angle, trigger squeeze, and butt pressure. Instructors can also use the BlueFire untethered weapon system to force weapons malfunctions that the students must resolve before engaging the target.
Want FREEInfo? Visit Meggitt Online
Los Angeles Police Department
The LAPD operates 28 simulators to train its more than 9,000 sworn officers. Each patrol division has one, others are employed producing scenarios, and the chief has one. All 28 are IES MILO systems.
"To ensure that we are consistent in our training, everyone uses the same model," says Officer Stacy Lim. "We chose the IES system because they came up with the best training scenarios and equipment for our needs. But there are a lot of good simulators out there."
And Lim should know; she has been working with simulators much of her 20-plus-year career. And the LAPD’s systems get a lot of work. Lim says that each officer is required to qualify with a handgun on the force option simulator once annually, reinforcing department use-of-force policy. "We use live fire for accuracy training," Lim explains. "The simulator training is for decision making and articulating why force was necessary."
Each LAPD patrol division has set aside a special area for simulator training. Lim says no live weapons are allowed in these areas. "Each division that has a force option simulator was tasked with designing its own room and ensuring safety in the training area," Lim says.
One of the things Lim likes most about the IES MILO system in use at the LAPD is that it can be a multipurpose training platform. "It’s hooked up with the capability to run PowerPoint presentations, so we can use it for classroom lectures," she says.
If there was one thing Lim would improve about the LAPD’s simulators, she says she would make the recoil systems on the handguns more flexible. The IES handguns used by LAPD have drop-in CO2 cartridges for recoil. Lim says she likes the Dvorak CO2 system, but she would also like to have the ability to hook the handguns up to air tanks as in previous IES systems because the CO2 cartridges only last for about 30 shots. "IES tells me they are working on that," she says.
IES MILO Range Pro
The IES MILO Range Pro comes with 250 ready-to-train scenarios, but using the MILO Course Designer instructors can produce their own. One big selling point is high-definition video and audio. The compact simulator can support up to 16 devices/weapons simultaneously, four per student. For student feedback, it captures both video and audio. Some instructors may also find the Untethered Instructor option appealing. This Windows-based PDA controller allows the instructor to move away from the keyboard and work more closely with students.
Want FREEInfo? Visit IES Online
Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority Police
The 85 officers of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority Police Department are headquartered in Buffalo, N.Y., and it is their responsibility to safeguard the airport, buses in three counties, and the subway. The department’s force option simulator is the Advanced Interactive Systems (AIS) PRISim.
Training Officer Michael LiVecchi says the agency has used the AIS system for about four years for shoot/don’t shoot training, force articulation, and a variety of other training applications.
LiVecchi sees the simulator as a tool for putting officers in the correct mindset for using force and defending the use of force. "After each scenario, we have the screen go dark and have them explain what just happened," LiVecchi says. "If they do go to court on the matter, they will be speaking at a level and in a manner that can be understood by a jury and not speaking in ‘cop talk.’"
Trainers at the agency also use the AIS system to hone their students’ observation skills. "Sometimes we just have them watch the scenario and question them on suspect descriptions and other people in the scenario. We want to know if they are experiencing tunnel vision and are just locking in on the suspect alone."
LiVecchi says that one of the best features of the AIS PRISim is the AirMunition recoil system. AirMunition is a training cartridge that fits the magazines and chambers of the training weapons. The reusable cartridges are filled with compressed air by the training staff, and they cycle and eject like live rounds. "We can cause malfunctions by putting in less air than necessary to cycle the round. We can even put in a dead round with no air, and the student won’t know it."
One improvement that LiVecchi would like to see in future AIS systems is 3D imaging. "I wouldn’t want it in all scenarios, but it would be nice to have it as an option that we could turn on and turn off as we want," he says.
The PRISim system is designed for both marksmanship and force option and force articulation training. A wide variety of lethal and less-lethal weapons are available for use with the simulator. For extra realism and for elevating the students’ stress level, instructors can use the integrated ShootBack system. The ShootBack cannon fires .68 caliber nylon balls at speeds up to 120-feet-per second. That’s enough velocity to sting a bit and remind a student to use cover in a gunfight.
Want FREEInfo? Visit AIS Online
Phelps County (Mo.) Sheriff’s Department
Interstate 44 runs east to west across Missouri into the Ozarks, cutting through sparsely populated Phelps County and skirting the town of Rolla. The highway is a major drug transportation corridor, and that’s why the 28 deputies of the Phelps County Sheriff’s Department can train on a VirTra Systems IVR-300 HD simulator that costs $159,000: Drug forfeitures paid for it. "We let the bad guys pay for our equipment," says Lt. Bruce Southard.
The IVR-300 HD is a visually immersive system that plays scenarios on 300 degrees of panoramic screens. In other words, there are threats to the side and the rear, not just right in front of you. "When you go up to a house or approach a car in a scenario, you see everything around you," says Southard. "It’s really brought the deputies’ awareness up," he says.
Not only does the IVR-300 HD offer an ultra-realistic near wraparound visual, it also has a surround sound effect and Southard says that can be quite distracting during a scenario. "There’s so much you can do with it," he explains. "You can play the sound of a helicopter going over, or dogs barking, or a door opening behind the student."
Students that don’t keep their head on a swivel in a VirTra Systems scenario are likely to feel some pain. Phelps County’s VirTra System simulator is outfitted with the Threat-fire belt, a belt worn by an officer during a scenario. When a bad guy shoots the officer, he or she feels a mild electric shock in the front or back, depending on the virtual point of impact. "It feels a lot like a rubber band snap," says Southard. It really raises your blood pressure and your stress when you think about taking that hit."
Southard says that his department realizes that it is lucky to have access to such state-of-the-art technology for so few sworn personnel, and it has allowed other agencies to use the system for training, including local police departments, the FBI, the DEA, the U.S. Marshal Service, and even Army MPs from Fort Leonard Wood.
VirTra Systems IVR-300 HD
VirTra Systems produces panoramic simulators that wrap around the shooter, ranging from 180 degrees to a full 360 degrees. The effect is essentially a high-definition digital shoot-house. Students use tetherless weapons with recoil, including pistols, rifles, and subguns. Other available devices include TASERs and OC. The IVR-300 can accommodate multiple students during force option scenarios and 15 students for virtual range training.
Want FREEInfo? Visit VirTra Systems Online
Putting It All Together
From the beginning, there have been two types of law enforcement training simulators: force option and driving. And there was really no good way to combine the two. Yes, you could put them side by side or in the same facility and have the officer virtually drive to the virtual suspect confrontation, but there was no way to make the simulators link for seamless action.
Now there is. Recently, FAAC and IES combined their resources to create Driving Force, a combination FAAC driving simulator and IES MILO force option system. The idea was a no-brainer; the two companies have the same parent, Arotech.
FAAC’s Driving Force hybrid simulator allows instructors to immerse their students in a very realistic patrol environment. They can receive a call for service in their patrol car, drive to the location, conduct a field interview, make a simulated arrest, use lethal or less-lethal force, and if things really go bad, the scenario can end in a vehicle pursuit.
"People have combined these systems in the past, but they were not integrated," says Chuck Deakins, a retired Santa Ana (Calif.) Police Department commander and a consultant with FAAC and IES. "With the Driving Force, the driving simulator and the force simulator are integrated and they show the same action."
Need FREEInfo? Visit Driving Force Online