LINCOLN – As the events at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., showed all too sadly on Monday, police officers must be prepared to take on a wide range of potentially life-threatening situations while considering the use of deadly force, and members of the local Police Department are no exception.
That is why Police Capt. Philip G. Gould was happy to show off the capabilities of a “shoot-don’t shoot,” police training simulator the department brought in on loan this week from the Rhode Island Interlocal Trust municipal insurance agency.
The Police Department training opportunity with the high-tech, computer-controlled big-screen simulator had been booked months ago, but the events in Washington, where a troubled shooter claimed the lives of 12 people before he was shot by police, only underscored the importance of the planned training.
All 36 members of the department will spend at least an hour on the simulator while it is set up in a downstairs garage and face challenging scenarios that can be altered midstream by Gould and Patrolman Edward Walusiak, a department training officer.
“It gives police officers video and audio scenarios and puts them in situations where they have to make decisions on what level of force to use,” Gould said.
The Fire Arms Training Simulator (FATS) links real police handguns, rifles and military-style small arms to the computer system’s server via cables, and then connects their aiming points to the large video screen with infrared sensing technology. Added realism for the training sessions is provided by lifelike video of people involved in the various police encounters depicted on the screen, and also through the aid of a pressurized air system creating realistic gun recoils when a police weapon is fired. The system also allows the training officer to add pepper spray or Tazer devices to the system that officers can deploy as nonlethal control options when possible.
Because there is a “human operator” at the controls of the computer simulation, Gould said it is possible for a police officer to be tested with a “no win” scenario.
“I am a big fan of the FATS simulator because it creates “high stress’’ situations such as responding to an incident of domestic violence or a gun call,” Gould said.
“We get to measure the officer’s reaction to a situation and you get to control where the incident goes to some extent,” he said. The surprise turns of a given scenario create the feelings of stress that an officer might encounter when faced with a real life-threatening event, he noted.
Walusiak took on a scenario involving his response to a couple’s home for a domestic incident in which at first the man involved appeared to be unarmed. But as the scenario progressed, the man kept moving off to other rooms of the home while failing to heed Walusiak’s commands to stop and speak with the officer. As the scenario came to a close, the man suddenly brings out a knife and begins to approach without heeding Walusiak’s commands to stop. The police officer fired at the man to stop him before he attacked at close range with the knife.
In a second simulation, Walusiak faced a distraught man who suddenly comes out with a handgun who threatens himself repeatedly while waving the weapon around and pointing it at himself.
Walusiak attempted to talk the man out of his distress while covering him with the infrared firearm and ultimately was able to have him put the weapon down while ending the scenario without injury to anyone.
As a reporter found out while being given a turn at the simulator, the decisions to be made in life-threatening scenarios come quickly and cannot be changed once made. A scenario in which the trainee and three other officers enter a large residential complex while responding to a reported gun incident begins with gunfire being heard up a set of stairs. As simulation carries the group up the stairs, a man suddenly comes down pointing a gun. A decision to shoot for self-protection was a wrong one, it turned out. The armed man in fact was an undercover police detective also working the incident.
Gould, a training officer for the R.I. Municipal Police Training Academy, said the simulator program is very effective in showing new police officers what they may face while out on patrol on the streets, and in some cases even if the job is one they really want.
“We use the simulator at the academy to give new officers a taste of what the job entails and it puts people in stress situations they might encounter on the job, and sometimes they realize this might not be the job for them,” he said.
“Just like firefighters don’t have a choice and have to go into burning buildings, this is what we have to do when people are being hurt,” Gould said. “This is our job.”
Police Chief Brian Sullivan said he also would be taking on the simulator training during the week, and believes it is a valuable tool for officers to hone their emergency and crisis response skills. “It is about as real as it gets without being real,” Sullivan said.