Firearms Training Simulator helps officers react, interact

Firearms Training Simulator helps officers react, interact by M. Jill Karolevitz Practice, practice, practice ? it�s a mantra repeated by athletes, musicians and even police officers.

But how do law enforcement officials go over and over scenarios involving the possible use of deadly force?

Members of the police community in Vermillion found the answer to that question last week as they were trained with a computer-generated video imaging system called FATS � Firearms Training Simulator. The equipment, provided free to the Vermillion Police Department by the Regional Training Center in Sioux City, IA, was available for a week for training purposes.

Consisting of a computer, a screen and a large projector connected to two handguns, FATS gives police personnel the ability to actually see and participate in violent situations. The training was conducted by Officer Mike Joffer of the Vermillion Police Department.

�With the weapons and software, this machine costs up to $150,000,� Joffer said. �We�re lucky to be able to use it for free through the federally funded Regional Training Center. It plays out 34 different scenarios that police officers may encounter on the job. It gives them a confrontation, then helps in the evaluation of their reaction and interaction.�

FATS can utilize two different weapons. While in Vermillion, it was connected to a Glock semi-automatic, used by the VPD, and a Beretta 9 mm, used by the South Dakota Highway Patrol. Officers training on the system actually fire the guns, if the situation warrants it, at images on the video projected in front of them. The interaction is much like a video game, with no bullets, but the result is shown on the screen.

Scenarios include burglary, traffic stops, a drunk in the lobby, robbery, a disgruntled employee, arguments, various disturbances and answering a night-time burglar alarm. More than one person may be involved in the potentially life-threatening situation.

�This can help officers remember the ?one-plus� rule � if there is one individual involved in a dangerous situation, there could be more,� Joffer said.

Along with working to stop the initial individual, officers must learn to continue to scan the perimeters of the area for others who may be involved.

�There is a tendency, when the adrenaline starts pumping, for an officer to get tunnel vision and focus on one subject,� Joffer said. �That�s when there could be a problem. While you�re concentrating on one person, another could come out from behind something and shoot you. This training device helps officers learn to scan the area.�

As the situations play out on the screen, perpetrators either cooperate and surrender or become violent. In either case, the officer must react according to what action unfolds. That may include the use of deadly force.

When the training is over the officers must justify their actions � their use of verbal commands and the use of their firearm. They are questioned about why they did what they did, how many shots were fired, what kind of weapons were used by the perpetrators and what they looked like.

The computer helps with the evaluation in several ways, including keeping track of the number of rounds fired and the police officer�s grip pressure.

Although the VPD has a policy regarding the use of deadly force, it is not always the answer. It is used only if absolutely necessary, Joffer said.

�We are trained to neutralize the threat,� Joffer said. �We are taught to talk the person down first, with a ready gun, but if they don�t respond, there are three criteria that are needed in order to justify deadly force � the perpetrator has to have means (a weapon), the opportunity to do harm and pose as an imminent threat. An officer has a split second to make the decision. If the three criteria are met, then he or she is justified in using deadly force.

�No one wants to get in to a situation where you have to fire your weapon,� he added. �But training such as this is important if the need arises. Situations can happen here where officers may make the decision to use deadly force � maybe not as often as the more populated urban areas, but the potential is there.

�This training tool helps with the officer�s judgement in a potentially lethal situation,� Joffer continued. �It�s hard to simulate real-life situations, but this is as close as we can get to the real thing. It�s very true-to-life according to officers who have been involved in shootings.�

FATS met with enthusiasm from local trainees, which last week included the VPD, the Clay County Sheriff�s Department and USD Public Safety officers. Sheriff�s Office reserves will train on the machine when it returns to Vermillion in six months.

�A lot of the officers were really pumped up about this,� Joffer said. �They answered evaluation forms with high scores regarding the machine.�

Joffer was certified in 1998 to train on FATS. He has been on the VPD for 10 1/2 years and has been the firearms instructor for eight of those years.

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