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DCSO invests in video training simulator

by Merrie Leininger, staff writer

The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office has invested in a high-stakes video game that will reduce the chance of accidental shootings and lawsuits.

The program holds hundreds of scenarios that police officers could encounter on the street everyday. Lt. Al Baumruck calls the program one of the most exciting training devices he’s seen in more than 30 years in law enforcement.

“We want to train our officers to be better officers. They are a well-trained crew, but we don’t want anybody to get hurt. If we have to shoot somebody, we want it to be the right one,” Baumruck said.

The $62,000 computer-operated program is manufactured by Firearms Training Systems of Atlanta, Ga., and will mostly be paid for by a $30,000 grant from the federal COPs program the department recieved this year. The department has been awarded a second grant for next year through the same program.

Baumruck said the system is currently the most advanced in Nevada. Casey Foy, regional sales representative for FATS, said there are about 2,000 operating programs with law enforcement agencies in the country.

The system is controlled by a computer program that Baumruck said is similar to Windows. The computer is hooked up to a gun that has carbon dioxide cartridges for a realistic recoil when the trigger is pulled. The officer can choose to test his shooting techniques by using a target practice or proceed through scenarios on a big screen that are videotape quality, not computer graphics or cartoons. The officers can walk through a bank robbery, a felony warrant arrest or a suspicious vehicle stop among many other options.

In each scenario, there are dozens of different outcomes that the officer can find himself in.

While the officers joke that it is like playing video games, the training will be taken seriously, Baumruck said.

“They are jazzed,” Baumruck said of the officers who haven’t had an opportunity to train on the new equipment. “But they won’t have the opportunity to use it without a trainer present. There is going to be one-on-one training. That way, the officers don’t get used to the scenarios. They have to make a realistic decision and if they mess up, other departments make them write a memo or go before a board and describe why they messed up. It’s not like they can drop another quarter into the machine. They will have a limited number of options, because otherwise, it gets to be like a game.”

Baumruck said the department hasn’t decided what the deputies will have to do if they shoot what they call “friendlies,” people in the scenarios who are not at that moment threatening the safety of the officers or any other people.

Baumruck and Lt. Mike Biaggini said they know the training holds a similar amount of stress as a real-life situation from watching other officers use the program.

“I’ve watched students go through this and shoot the first person out the door. They get hyped up and someone bolts out of the darkness and bam! They shoot first without identifying it,” Biaggini said.

Biaggini said every officer who has spent enough time out on the street knows they will often face situations with little time and information to make that decision.

“Any cop who has worked patrol has a mirror story,” Biaggini said.

He related a real-life event when he was investigating a possible break-in and was surprised by his own reflection. Baumruck said he was searching a dark warehouse and saw movement right as an air compressor turned on near his ear.

“Luckily, I didn’t shoot, I dropped, then someone turned on the lights and it was a mirror,” he said.

The program can be adjusted to add stress for the trainee. Rain, snow, fog and darkness can be added. In cases of a nighttime scenario, officers can use a flashlight that has been modified with an infrared light. The screen appears black except for where the light from the flashlight shines.

“If we really want to have fun with them, we can make them do 20 or 30 pushups and get them really pumped up and shaky and then make them go through the scenario. It’s different than just poking holes in paper targets. It’s real-life situations that gets them thinking,” he said.

Baumruck said the second largest number of lawsuits police departments face are filed because of officer-involved shootings.

In addition to preventing a potentially tragic situation and/or lawsuit, the program helps the deputies correct errors in their shooting that just being on the range cannot.

“The tracing has been the most helpful to me. I had a problem before that now I understand and can fix,” Baumruck said.

The tracing program uses a laser that doesn’t appear on the screen when the officer is shooting, but can be pulled up during replay to show the movement of the muzzle of the gun.

“It’s skill building. You use it to detect if you are holding the gun wrong or pulling the gun back instead of the trigger and help get it corrected. It’s hard to tell someone you are pulling to the right when you pull the trigger, but now you can see where the muzzle goes and a light bulb comes on,” Biaggini said.

The laser tracer can also be used when the scenarios are replayed to show where the gun was pointing during the whole exercise. Following the initial shooting exercise, the computer can also tell the officer how many shots he fired, how many shots hit the target and caused injuries, and how many fatal shots were made.