Simulator gives cops real-life use-of-force training

Sean C. Morgan

Of The New Era

As the police officer walked up a woman exited her car, screaming at the officer for pulling her over.

She refused to respond to commands and finally declared, “I’m done with this.” As her passenger snuck out the right side of the car, she leaned into the car to grab something.

The officer reached for his weapon.

As she swung her arms up with a handgun, her passenger popped up over the hood of the car with a gun. By the time he saw the weapons, a split second too late, the officer was dead.

That’s one of many possible scenarios local officers are experiencing during this week and next, a simulator at the Sweet Home Police Department.

Most of the time police don’t encounter this type of situation, but they must keep in mind that it can happen at any traffic stop.

Traffic stops are potentially the most dangerous situations an officer can face, Training Officer Tim Trahan said. The danger can come from passing traffic or from an extreme, and rare, situation like this one.

“This is the best available training for the worst-case scenario,” said Training Officer Justin McCubbins.

The simulator, called MILO and manufactured by Arotech Corporation, is set up in a darkened room. A projector plays life-sized video on a screen. The firing mechanisms for TASER electronic stun devices, firearms and even pepper spray are replaced with a laser, which tells MILO where a shot hits on the screen. The screen also reacts to a red flashlight, illuminating the scene as if the officer was actually moving through it with a flashlight.

MILO presents numerous scenarios, all of which can end different ways. McCubbins and Trahan can manipulate the video in response to an officer’s decisions.

“This is a scenario-based, use-of-force, decision-making tool,” Trahan said. Officers are required to follow the department’s use-of-force policy, responding to the level of threat given in each scenario with the appropriate tool, from verbal commands to using a firearm.

A scenario may require only a forceful presence giving verbal commands, but “if your tool isn’t working, then you have to revert to another tool, just like in real life,” Trahan said. “This is as real as (training) gets without shooting a projectile at another person.”

Police officers can train and talk through these scenarios, but real hands-on experience is unlikely to happen in their day-to-day experience. To help them be as prepared as possible, exposing them to life-like situations helps do that.

Tell a child not to touch a hot stove, and he won’t thoroughly understand until he actually touches it and gets burned, Trahan said. The simulation is similar, adding that extra degree of realism to the training exercise.

“This puts the situation into your head,” he said.

Officers begin with a debriefing on the use of force, Trahan said. All of the different parts are covered as they ask and answer questions. It includes verbal scenarios.

From there, it’s on to the simulator, he said. “They jump into situations where they have to determine what level of force is justified in a situation and then apply it.”

Their goal is to reduce the level of threat, Trahan said. If an officer is responding to a report of someone walking with an openly displayed weapon, the officer will likely have his weapon ready. He’ll ask the subject to put the weapon down.

“The first thing we do is take the weapon out of the equation,” Trahan said, and that’s how officers approach this training.

“There’s lots of different scenarios, and you never know what you’re going to get,” McCubbins said.

The system is owned by the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training, which lends the equipment to training officers in police departments across the state.

Officers throughout the state have been trained this way at the Police Academy for the past six years.