GREENFIELD — Here, it’s OK to make mistakes, Greenfield Detective Brian Hartman told his fellow officers.
Here, in a training room near the back of the Greenfield Police Department, is where they’ll learn if they drew a weapon too quickly — or not quickly enough; where they can shout and shoot and know no one will be hurt.
Outside of these four walls, the pressure is much higher, and the scenario is more dangerous. But with a little practice, officers can become better prepared for when the meet the real thing, Hartman said.
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The Greenfield Police Department this week conducted weapons training using a high-tech firearm simulator, a rented device that uses filmed scenarios and interactive equipment to help officers practice the high-pressure situations they might face while on patrol.
Officers must interact with the videos that flash across a projector screen and react to the real-world crime scenarios — from traffic stops gone awry to school shootings — that play out in front of them. When necessary, they can pull and fire a plastic gun equipped with sensors that track their response times and accuracy of their shot.
Officers and their supervisors are then able to talk about the results, to analyze why an officer made a certain decision, even replaying the footage showing what shots were made how quickly and whether they would have injured a suspect or killed them. Officers can ask questions and discuss any mistakes they might have made — things they aren’t able to revisit after their real-life patrols, said Hartman, who helped conduct the training this week.
The simulator is a tool commonly used at the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy to teach those training to be police officers, but it’s been about a decade since the Greenfield department rented one to use for its quarterly firearms and use-of-force training.
Their skills are typically tested at a local police shooting range, where officers can conduct private target practice, or in a classroom where police can talk through proper behavior in a variety of scenarios, Greenfield Capt. Brian Guinn said.
But there, no one is shouting or shooting back, Guinn said; the simulator — with its actors playing the roles of average citizens, potential criminals and those in need of help — forces the officer to think about more than just where to aim or when to pull the trigger, Guinn said.
Patrolman Jeremy Summers said the simulator forces officers to practice every law enforcement skill in their arsenal. They talk back to the actors in the video just like they would interact with community members. They listen to what the actors say, careful to hear key phrases about whether they have a gun or if they plan to harm themselves or others.
And because instructors have control of how the story plays out the screen, they can alter a scenario based on the officer’s actions, Guinn said: they can make a suspect hand over their gun if an officer properly calms them, or they can put the officer in the middle of shootout if the officer doesn’t pull a weapon quickly enough.
The department spent $1,700 to rent the device for two days of training, but the lessons the simulator offers are worth much more — especially in recent years when fatal shootings have caused tensions between police and the communities they serve, instructors said.
Guinn added people often don’t realize the quick decisions officers have to make in high-pressure scenarios. All they can do is rely on their training and hope to make the right decision.
“We’re trained to stop the threat,” Guinn said. “We’re in a tough position. …They (the suspect) always know what they are going to do, and we just have to react to it.”