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Editor experiences front lines in police training simulation

by Bob Gaetjens | editor Published: February 28, 2013 12:00 AM

Call me Dirty Harry.

In a high-octane school shooting scenario, I apparently would not be a cop to trifle with.

Creeping through the hallways of a school building in which a known gunman is at-large, Mayor Glenn Broska and I held our own in a tense situation -- for the most part.

Ducked into an alcove at a classroom door, a man stood with his back to us and his hands and arms hidden. He did not have a chance to turn around. I shot him.

Or, I would have shot him, had this been real. But no, I was not actually trolling a school building armed. And neither was the mayor.

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We were both in police station basement responding to a video of a scenario in which officers must respond appropriately in a potential shooting situation.

The training simulation was brought to Streetsboro Police Department by the Ohio Attorney General's office and offered to Streetsboro Police and about eight officers from the Aurora Police Department, according to Andy Russell, a law enforcement training officer from the attorney general's office.

The video training system, which includes 450 different scenarios each of which includes various options, is designed to train officers to react appropriately in a potential shooting situation. These are not just video shooting galleries, but realistic scenarios officers could find themselves in.

The appropriate thing do to our school shooting situation was probably to demand to see the man's hands, which were hidden from view and could have been holding a gun or a cell phone.

At another point in the same scenario, a man with an assault rifle slowly heads down a hallway, crossing in front of officers' eyes. He's wearing jeans and black vest, but it's not until you can see the uniformed officers following him that you realize he's a good guy. By the time he's almost crossed the officer's field of vision, you can see the word "Police" in large letters on the back of the vest.

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The simulator also can enable a pair of officers to use several tools in a single incident -- flashlights, a can of pepper spray, a TASER and their sidearms, for example.

The system can accommodate up to 16 weapons in a single training scenario.

Experiencing these situations was mostly a matter of reaction for me. I'd never shot a gun before, so just getting used to the feel of the gun was a process. This was a no water pistol. When I pulled the 9 mm Glock's trigger, it included everything one would experience with a loaded weapon except the kick (and the bullet).

The whole experience of shooting in this simulation was pretty interesting. There was certainly an adrenaline rush when I was in the situational simulations, like the school shooting, but I've got to believe being in an actual school shooting I would be even more on edge.

One thing that could make the experience a bit more real is filming a scenario within the community -- at a school, for instance -- so officers can respond utilizing their knowledge of the building, which is something Russell said can be done.

Fortunately, Broska said these types of events don't happen frequently.

"A cop might encounter something like this once in a career, and he has to get it right," he said.

The driving simulation, also offered by the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy, was a bit less high adrenaline, at least for me, but the brake, steering feel and handling of the squad car took some getting used to.

The simulator wraps the driver with video windows on three sides with working side and rear view mirrors, as well as switches for lights and sirens.

Just driving and keeping track of the red sedan I was pursuing was more than enough for me, but Powers said officers usually are driving, communicating with dispatch and operating the lights and sirens all at once. And they have to do it all safely, even in the center of town with its many lanes of traffic and complex intersections.

Law Enforcement Training Officer Bob Richardson said within a given scenario he can program the simulator to include different variables. For Broska, a former fire captain in Twinsburg, Richardson sent one fire ladder truck barreling down the road at the mayor and others heading through an intersection across a red light.

Powers said he hopes to offer the driving simulation at least once a year. There's also a driving training experience which is more focused on evasive maneuvers, which is even more realistic in feel than last week's experience, which focused more on snap decisions in traffic, according to Richardson.

The simulated shooting and driving were fun, being but considering the stakes in a real situation where such skills are needed, the training is deadly serious.

One break in protocol during a shooting or incident of tunnel vision during a pursuit can lead to an accident or shooting of an innocent bystander. Given the infrequency of those incidents, the training is a great opportunity for officers to hone their skills during these training experiences.

Let's just hope officers don't have to experience many of these scenarios in the field.

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