High Definition Police Training Simulators Continue to Better Prepare Police for Real Life Situations
The Evolution of Law Enforcement Technologies Providing 21st Century Psychological and Physical Conditioning
Technological developments in law enforcement over the last 100 years have continuously provided our police with safer working environments. Think back to the day when police were limited to foot patrol miles from the station and no mode of communication. In the 1930’s, along came two-way radios and automobiles became used nationwide by police departments. The 1960’s produced a flurry of attempts to advance law enforcement combat situations. This included dart guns that administered drugs, strobe lights, rubber bullets (which still have some uses today) and stun guns. The TASER eventually developed from the technologies during this decade. More recent technologies have been products of highly evolved computer systems to assist agencies in all aspects of protecting the public.
Advancements in police technology always have one common goal: to better serve and protect our police and citizens in a world that is becoming ever-increasingly more violent. The 60’s tried a variety of “on the spot” methods to assist officers in dealing with criminals and crowd control. The 1980’s saw the introduction of firearms and tactical simulators to better prepare police before entering into situations that could require use of force. Obviously, training itself is not a new concept, but previous training methods were certainly limited in effectiveness for real-life scenarios. The importance of psychological and physical conditioning and the degree to which can this conditioning could be achieved through simulators was moved to the forefront of training practices.
The theory was intact, but the technologies, while revolutionary, were still lacking with the capacity being single screen videos with low-quality picture and sound. The variations of the videos were also sub-par to say the least. What has happened since those days is nothing shy of incredible and some of the most highly-relevant progressions police training has ever seen. Entry-level simulators today still are offered in a single-screen format, but the capacities have evolved tremendously. The videos are high definition, the sound systems are realistic and the programs can be controlled by the instructor to permit a variety of situations with multiple scenarios available from a single program. Some systems even use professional actors in their highly interactive training programs to further enhance the virtual reality experience. Single screens are just the beginning as virtual training systems range up to fully-immersive, 360 degree training platforms. VirTra Systems, Inc., based in Tempe, AZ, through their IVR series of simulators, is presently the only manufacturer to offer “seamless” technology between screens as the trainee experiences high definition video, hi-fidelity audio, smell, wind and motion while being completely encompassed from all angles during training sessions. Multiple users can participate in the training exercising while interacting with each other as if in a true life and death situation.
Lockheed Martin’s STS platforms are specifically designed for military combat training which allows six different systems to be interlocked to create the virtual reality of a convey moving together into a variety of situations from military battle to riots in the streets. Full size tanks and vehicles can be used as part of this system.
The challenge of redefining the quality of video and sound has only been a portion of the advancements in tactical simulators. The weaponry evolution has also happened. Previously, firearms simulators allowed for few variations as weapons that accompanied the systems were connected to air tanks in order to create any recoil motions. The lasers had to be linked from the weapon to a computer in order to operate properly. These initial weapons did not have the same feel or actions as the service revolvers used in action. Once again, times have changed as most manufacturers provide conversion kits that allow the trainee to switch a few parts in the matter of minutes to use their standard revolver for the training. These weapons are available in both tethered (connected to another device) and non-tethered with realistic recoil actions to duplicate the look and feel of the weapon as if it were firing actual ammunition. Weapons in general are no longer limited with a wide array of styles and caliber weapons readily available to be used with the simulators depending on the specified area of training desired.
The other lagging development in simulators was possible scenarios. Many programs are customized for the client to fit their needs. By using today’s technologies, virtually any situation can be produced with any number of modifications to the situation being at a finger’s length away from the instructor controlling the situation for the trainee. When asked about the capacity and direction situations possible today, Don Andrus, President of VirTra Systems, commented, “The number of scenarios is endless. We categorize by type and the only limit is the amount of filming a client or we want done. The possibilities are only constrained to the client’s imagination.” Of course, there are standard programs that come with many possible situational changes throughout, but the ability to have programming customized is truly a modern marvel that allows tactical instructors to have areas that they deem in need of greater elaboration or training by their team to be manufactured exactly how they want it.
The benefits of virtual reality simulators are both obvious and discrete. First and foremost, situational training saves lives. By presenting situations repetitively, officers are trained to the highest level available at any time throughout history. Most simulators provide options that allow for the complete training sessions to be recorded and then reviewed. The recorded sessions don’t lie and they provide information for the instructor and trainee to spend time reviewing every subtlety and action to focus and highlight both the positive and the negative actions from the exercise. Actions can be refined to the slightest detail through repetition of the program. Through the easy-to-use menu controls, the instructor can also then modify the program to add “twists” to the situation such as lighting changes, background noises or even adding another person to test the trainee by changing the scenario at the instructor’s discretion. The lives of the law enforcement officers and any citizen involved or surrounding any real-life incident are protected through this level of training.
Psychological conditioning has become a hot button topic in police training in recent years. Many years ago, physical attributes of a police was the primary target for training. Recent years have seen a large emphasis being placed on the psychological component in training. Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, a former Army Ranger and author of the blockbuster hit books On Killing and On Combat, when commenting on FATS, Inc. simulators stated, “modern training uses what are essentially B.F. Skinner’s operant conditioning techniques to develop a firing behavior in the soldier.” He further commented on tactical virtual reality training, “soldiers who have conducted this kind of simulator training often report, after they have met a real life emergency that they just carried out the correct drill and completed it before they realized that they were not in the simulator.” Given his reputation in the industry and level of expertise, these comments from Lt. Col. Grossman carry a great deal of weight and speak volumes about the benefits of virtual simulators conditioning abilities.
Other benefits are often overlooked, but that does not mean that they are not pertinent to the valuable progressions of simulators. Finances are crucial to law enforcement agencies as they are a constant source of debate for Police Chiefs and City Planners. Simulators can have a positive impact in a longer term perspective to assist with this issue. Marksmanship has always been a staple in police training as it should be. Simulators have changed the way that this skill can be practiced. With courses ranging from novice to the extreme expert, officers can spend additional time training in more real-life situations within the confines of a simulator and without the cost of additional rounds of ammunition. Moving targets, situations that require the trainee to take cover and still retaliate while in motion to control the situation are all now possible. Missed shots can be tracked, situations can again be reviewed via recordings and the situations can be modified with the changing of a program. “While some training with live ammunition will always be mandatory,” stated Michael Broering, head of Firearms Training Simulator Division for the Cincinnati Police Dept., “state of the art simulators today do an incredible job of training and replicating actual shooting experiences.”
Liability lawsuits are another area of concern that is shouldered by of police departments. This topic goes hand-in-hand with the importance of saving lives mentioned earlier. Tactical training simulators train officers with the latest technologies to the highest degree possible. Real life situations that are practiced to make decisions about use of force can be methodically manipulated to educate the officer as to what is excessive and what is not. The appropriate use of deadly force is best practiced in this controlled environment without question. It may not be a topic that many people like to discuss, but simulator training provides a viable defense for the police in lawsuits concerning excessive force and caliber of training. Not only does it protect the integrity of the law enforcement agency, but also the integrity of any officer involved as they have been provided the pinnacle of training in all areas.
Times are always changing and it takes a concerted effort to continually keep up with them. Law enforcement officers put their lives on the line in the streets every day to protect our communities. If technology was going to lag in any area, it is great to see that it was not at the expense of these men and women. Simulators, whether they are a single-screen or fully-immersive, used for marksmanship training, use of force decision making or tactical training, have evolved to a level that compliments the braveness of the police using them to help keep them safe and keep them trained to the level that they deserve.