Kurt Hildebrand

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March 27, 2012
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Sheriff's Advisory Council raising money for simulator

A man driving a pickup spots two bicycle officers talking to a homeless man in an alley. The man steps out of the truck and while the officers are focusing on the homeless man, opens fire on all three.

This actual event is one of dozens included in a simulator used to train officers on when to use deadly force.

Members of the Douglas County Sheriff's Advisory Council are working to raise $175,000 to purchase the simulator, which they say will return its cost in decreased liability.

Council members watched three demonstrations of the VirTra judgmental simulator.

Among the features in the simulator are 180-degree seamless screens, the ability to convert officer's actual weapons into controllers, speakers mounted behind each screen, and even a pad that simulates rumbling motion of a truck going by or a helicopter flying overhead.

VirTra Systems representative Ryan Bray said an added feature was the ability of the trainer to shock participants when they get shot.

"It accomplishes the goal of adding stress and takes training to the next level," Bray said. "It makes it possible to put the trainee inside the environment."

One of the key features of the system is that there is no tether to the weapon, which allows deputies to draw their weapons in a natural fashion.

"We use video with real actors which we find are much better at showing real human emotions and cues that can't be simulated," he said. "The display is seamless across multiple screens. Our ultimate goal is realism."

Because the screens cover 180 degrees, trainees have to deal with threats from any direction, which means they have to watch their sides while dealing with whatever is in front of them.

With the 300-degree system, which police in Henderson use for training, deputies literally have to watch their backs.

That system also reduces training costs since the simulator uses a CO2 system that costs less than a penny a shot for training.

The system also simulates the recoil of a weapon, which adds to the realism. Also the suspect doesn't necessarily go down with a single shot. In the case of the man in the pickup, he's shot two or three times, falls back against the vehicle, and then starts firing again.

Capt. Joe Duffy said that the training was far superior to what deputies can get at the shooting range.

While the cost of the simulator is substantial, it could be returned to the county in decreased liability, advisory council member Scott Doyle said.

He said that in shootings, federal civil rights claims would look at the level of training an officer underwent in determining liability.

"A split-second decision gets to be Monday morning quarterbacked for months or even years," he said. "They'll look to see if the officer has the training and if the use of force was justified. If we make this investment on the front end, we'll get a heck of a lot better trained officers and get a safer community to boot."

Duffy said the training can be used for deputies assigned to the jail, K-9 officers and even the Special Weapons and Tactics team.

Devices used include Tasers, handguns, rifles, shotguns, and even pepper spray and batons.

Advisory Council member Bill Henderson said the March 20 presentations started the ball rolling in raising money for the system.

"They resulted in a good start in raising the total funds, but more help is needed," he said.

This is not the largest project the advisory council has taken on.

The group raised $200,000 for mobile computer terminals in 35 patrol cars installed in 2008.

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The Record Courier Updated Apr 5, 2012 07:04AM Published Mar 27, 2012 07:55PM Copyright 2012 The Record Courier. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.