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Use-of-Force Simulators

Current simulator technology allows officers to experience much more than just pre-recorded shoot/don't shoot scenarios in training.

April 30, 2010  |  by Tim Dees - Also by this author

Scenarios - Yours and Theirs

The first use-of-force simulator I ran in the 1980s held its scenarios - all five of them - on a laser disc. There was no practical way to author scenarios for laser disc, so what you saw was what you got. Today's simulators contain fast internal hard drives with hundreds of scenarios each. Stock AIS systems come with 450 scenarios; those from IES have twice that. Both vendors will produce customized scenarios for any customer.

Users can also produce their own scenarios. This is invaluable when you want your trainees to experience training seeing your uniforms, your cars, your trouble spots, and your policies. Simulator systems usually come with video editing and authoring software. This allows each user to shoot his or her own video, recording each desired "branch" corresponding to the actions (or inactions) of the trainee, and to the options set up on the fly by the instructor.

For instance, the action in a traffic stop scenario could start with the driver bursting out of the car, screaming at the officer. A branch could show the driver pointing a gun at the officer. One branch has the driver falling to the ground when the officer fires on center mass, another shows the driver shooting if the officer fails to fire, and still another might have the driver get back in and drive away if the officer scores a hit in a non-vital area or misses completely. Another branch would run if the officer gave the right verbal commands and persuaded the driver to surrender.

It takes some experience and a bit of trial and error to create scenarios that run smoothly. The major manufacturers each offer production training to their customers, so that any trainer can get in touch with his inner Spielberg. Whether the trainer undergoes the production course or not, the authoring software supplied with each system provides all the necessary tools. IES even supplies a 1080p HD camera.


The weapons in use-of-force sims have been one of the most common points of failure. Handguns used empty cartridges loaded with primers to make a BANG when the trainee pulled the trigger, but the primers quickly fouled the weapons and blinded the lasers in their barrels. And there was noise, but no recoil.

Most firearms now supplied with use-of-force simulators (they're usually real guns, modified with lasers and incapable of firing live ammo) recoil when fired by way of a gas charge in or attached to the gun. The gas canister is usually in a modified magazine and recharged through a compressor or by replacing a CO2 air pistol cartridge.

There are many variations to this method, ranging from a gas canister mounted elsewhere on the firearm to using a large bottle tethered to the weapon by a hose. These weapons are much more reliable when only clean CO2 is moving through them.

Most systems track weapons discharges and aimpoints through a specialized camera, but it's possible to use real guns and real bullets. AIS and American Defense Systems Inc. (ADSI) offer a setup that uses a paper roll or a self-healing membrane as the backdrop, so officers can walk in with their regular duty gear and go to work.

Because these are use-of-force, not shooting, simulators, a variety of force options are available. Customers can have laser-equipped TASERs, beanbag guns, spray canisters and the like, all of which register their hits and misses with the sim. You can get impact weapons, but the effect of these is harder to assess, since power and technique are closely linked with results.

Shootback cannons, which fire pellets or paintballs at trainees, are falling out of favor. They can be effective in teaching people to use cover, but they are often misused to harass or humiliate a trainee. Also, safe use requires the trainee to wear goggles for eye protection, which detracts from the realism.


Both IES and AIS partner with makers of driving simulators, so that a scenario can begin with the receipt of a radio call and driving response and move directly to the use-of-force simulator. Cameras mounted on or near the display screen can record every action of the trainee during the scenario, then replay it picture-in-picture on review.

Trainees often dispute what they did at critical moments-these recordings end the arguments. Some systems allow the instructor to record the scenario and the playback of the trainee's actions immediately to a CD, so the trainee can take it with him or her for review.

When more than one system is available, trainees can move from one room to another to complete a scenario, or even shoot head to head, each performing in different rooms. Trainers can get very creative with these tools.

The next step, already available from IES and Ti Training, uses stereo anaglyph (red and blue lenses) to display scenarios in 3-D. Creating scenarios of this type requires a 3-D camera (or two cameras mounted together, lenses about 2.5 inches apart), so it may be a while until we see wide deployment of this technology.

How Much Do They Cost?

Basic portable systems that break down to fit in a Pelican case go for $10,000 to $15,000. Systems with more bells and whistles start at $25,000 and go straight up from there. Much depends on whether the system will be portable or stationary, how many displays will be involved, and what weapons and other accessories are used. Granted, this isn't milk money, but such a system can take an officer through more critical incident exercises in an afternoon than he will experience in his entire career.

Tim Dees is a retired police officer and the former editor of two major law enforcement Websites who writes and consults on technology applications in criminal justice. He can be reached via [email protected]



Advanced Interactive Systems (AIS)

American Defense Systems Inc. (ADSI)

IES Interactive Training


VirTra Systems

Ti Training

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