Modern day training simulators for police officers are more than shoot-or-don’t shoot situations. A breakthrough for the technology now allows for officers to verbally interact with subjects on screen. The instructor can choose what the subjects do, and create officer habits for verbal de-escalation and non lethal strategies.
“Now there’s a successful outcome to the scenario besides shooting someone,” said Jay Ayala, spokesperson for such a training system called Meggitt Training Systems.
This advanced training equipment is in the works for Renton police.
Renton Police Department presented three possible choices for simulators to city council at Committee of the Whole Monday, March 11, all through the company Meggitt. Two of the options had three screens for a 180 degree display. The third option, a five screen display called the Fire Arms Training System or FATS 300LE, was the preferred choice.
“Trying to recreate what we might find on the streets is very difficult in a static environment,” Police Chief Ed VanValey said. “This is able to produce the anxiousness, the nervousness.”
The 300LE simulator includes surround sound, a hostile fire system that shoots foam pellets, and a variety of lethal and non lethal fake weapons that the simulations respond to.
The preferred simulator will cost approximately $217,000, plus the ongoing costs of replacing weapon batteries in the next seven years, at $150 an item. The weapons will include four pistols, two rifles, two pepper sprays and two flashlights that work with the simulator.
The simulator guns are also able to simulate the feeling of recoil and reloading.
There’s more than 300 scenarios programmed with the equipment, and new ones offered quarterly from the company.
Ayala was a former Atlanta police officer. He said Meggitt offers a range in the type of scenarios, including ones requested by police departments, such as knowing the signs between someone having a mental crisis versus being aggressive and dangerous.
“This isn’t just a firearms thing. It helps deal with people in moments of crisis,” VanValey said at the presentation.
The 300LE is Meggitt’s first five-screen system, released spring 2018. Only a few other departments have purchased this system as of January, according to Meggitt, one recent purchase being from Miami Police Department.
While this simulator is also meant to help with de-escalation techniques, it will also reduce liability in use-of-force cases for Renton. Often when agencies are sued the argument includes them being poorly trained, VanValey said in his presentation.
Mayor Denis Law and councilmember Don Persson also mentioned this point in June 2018, when council first looked at finding a new training space for officers.
Persson served in the Renton Police for 33 years and as deputy chief. At the June meeting he said that best possible training is well worth the legal protection.
“One bad decision, and us not being able to show we’ve provided the best training possible, will cost us more than any virtual machine,” Persson said at that meeting.
Law said at Committee of the Whole last June that he doesn’t want to suggest training can prevent the possibility of tragic incidents in Renton, but it can help reduce the possibility.
Persson also said he’s very humbled by how far FATS systems have gotten for training since he first saw them.
FATS, which was acquired by Meggitt, pioneered police simulators.
“When you talk about the importance of a human life, practicing something live can cost you a life, it’s easier to practice simulation,” Ayala said.
Renton Police Department estimated that just one reality based training, where they use five to seven officers to act out a scenario for just one to two trainees, costs as much as $24,000 in personnel hours. That’s time taken away from patrols and other duties, VanValey said.
Ayala also said simulators are more cost efficient. He remembers the costly paintball simulations for use-of-force scenarios as an officer, and now simulators can offer increased and faster practice. As an instructor at a police academy, he also said simulators there were a great tool for instructors.
VanValey said there’s also a potential savings in firearms training for Renton of $15,000.
The simulator uses true ballistics so officers can practice their qualification courses on the Meggitt system, Ayala said. The system can also analyze the user’s fundamentals of marksmanship.
Even without the savings, several council members and Mayor Law expressed their deep approval at the March 11 meeting. Law said that cost is not driving this choice when looking at the positive outcome from officer’s receiving more consistent training.
The police department proposed for a new officer training area on the fourth floor in city hall to councilmembers in June 2018. VanValey said last year that this will double the training space currently available. It will include a room for the 300LE simulator, a classroom with 30 trainee capacity, and room for “defensive tactics,” which will include some reality based training.
Parks Department Administrator Kelly Beymer said at the recent March committee meeting they anticipate finishing this by the end of 2019.
The floor will be remodeled to include sound deadening equipment in the walls to prevent noise from reaching other parts of city hall. If there is a noise issue, VanValey said they can coordinate training to make sure it doesn’t interfere with working hours.
Law said council can expect a proposed budget adjustment for this in the near future for their approval.