Virtual shooting simulator prepares law enforcement for the toughest situations

May 31, 2018, 6:16 PM | Updated: Jun 1, 2018, 12:10 am

OREM, Utah – It’s easy to analyze everything a police officer does after the fact. In the heat of the moment, though, split second decisions have to be made. It’s why training simulators have been used to help officers learn to make quick decisions.

“Kevin, talk to me, put the knife down. This isn’t worth it,” said Orem Police Sgt. Scott Rich during a training scenario Thursday afternoon. “Drop that knife.”

Eventually, virtual Kevin dropped his knife and stood back.

It was one of hundreds of scenarios in a training simulator called VirTra.

With calibrated lasers, multiple screens, and a training officer inputting commands and responses based on what an officer does in the simulator, it put officers in the middle of something they may face in real life.

“Oh, it helps us a great deal,” said Sgt. Rich. “It puts us in a position to be in a scenario that is dangerous without actually being in danger.”

Officers work through a virtual simulation of an active shooter at a school.

One scenario Sgt. Rich went through involved a school shooting.

It featured several injured students on the ground, others running towards him, and an unknown number of shooters.

“Get out of here! Move,” he yelled at students running out of the school library just before encountering, and shooting, two armed suspects.

“Two down in the library,” he instinctively said to his radio.

Split second decisions involve not shooting innocent people and finding the bad guys.

In another scenario involving a movie theater shooter who went outside, the decision was whether or not shoot the man holding a gun with his back to officers.

Even though he already shot at police once inside.

“That same guy shot at me. I go out and see him, I still see the gun, even though it’s down and his back is to me, I would’ve shot it,” said Orem Police Lt. Craig Martinez.

Orem Police Sgt. Scott Rich getting ready for the simulator

Those split second decisions are easy to analyze and judge after watching body camera footage for hours, days, and even weeds. In the heat of the moment, however, it’s tough.

It’s also difficult for officers when they hear comments from the public like “why didn’t you use your Taser instead?” or “why didn’t you shoot him in the leg?”

“Accountability is good. We want accountability. I signed up for probably the same reasons most officers sign up, a sense of duty, help the community, things of that nature,” said Sgt. Rich. “It would be great if everybody could go through this and give it a try to see things from our perspective, too.”

To illustrate their perspective even more, Orem police allowed members of the media to do a couple of scenarios.

In one, I was with another officer helping a seemingly drunk man and never saw a man pull up behind us in a pickup truck.

He shot at us, hitting myself, the other officer, and the guy we were talking to.

I never saw it coming.

Reporter Alex Cabrero takes his turn in a police simulator designed to test officers’ reflexes and decision-making.

In the second scenario, I was inside a home where the elderly homeowners were tied up by a burglar who was still in the house.

When I encountered him, he dropped a bag and got on his knees.

I never saw the second burglar peek around a corner and shoot at me.

He missed, but while I was looking at the second burglar, I noticed the first burglar make a move and I shot him.

I never saw he was holding a gun until after the scenario and we watched the replay.

He was holding a gun and pointing it at me.

It was clear as day as I looked at the video, but in that split second I fired at him, I never saw him pointing the gun at me.

Trainers and officers call this “tunnel vision.”

It’s another reason why officers train so had in these situations, so they can remain calm and steady, and no how to fight the effects of tunnel vision.

“Well, I think everybody gets a little scared every now and again,” said Sgt. Rich. “Doing things like this over and over again in different types of scenarios makes you better at it as you progress, so training like this is a big deal for the police department and officers all around the country.”

This particular simulator is in Utah County and is available to police departments to train on.

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Virtual shooting simulator prepares law enforcement for the toughest situations