We connected with four of the top industry experts in the area of police simulators, and got their thoughts on the challenges, solutions, and future prospects for this continually-developing technology.
Even as police agencies continue to work with diminishing training budgets, many are choosing to make fairly hefty investments in computer-driven simulators for use-of-force and emergency driving training.
While this this has led to grumbling among a certain few, it’s possible that critics of this strategy may not be fully aware of the potential long-term benefits agencies might enjoy. When simulators are properly integrated into a complete curriculum of use-of-force/live-fire and behind-the-wheel EVOC training, they do benefit officers in their jobs.
We connected with four of the top industry experts in the area of police simulators, and got their thoughts on the challenges, solutions, and future prospects for this continually-developing technology. Here, in part one of this two-part series (part two will post in this space one week from today, on May 23) we begin the discussion with some of the training issues this amazing technology can solve for law enforcement.
Meet the Experts
- Chuck Deakins is Public Safety Specialist for FAAC. Deakins is a retired officer from Santa Ana (Calif.) whose knowledge of simulator training strategies, tactics, and techniques, has led to his success in all applications of simulation instruction.
- James Peters is the Law Enforcement Subject Matter Expert and Trainer for VirTra Systems. Peters is a retired officer from an Arizona Law Enforcement Agency. He had a distinguished career in Patrol, Street Crimes, SWAT, and holds numerous training certifications.
- Rob McCue is General Manager for IES Interactive Training. McCue has been in the simulation and training industry since 1990. Prior to that, he served as a weapons and tactics instructor as an NCO with the U.S. Army’s elite 1st Ranger Battalion.
- Jimmie McCoy is Manager of Courseware Development for Meggitt Training Systems. McCoy leads a team of dedicated professionals producing simulation training courseware intended to save the lives of officers and innocent bystanders.
What are the biggest issues facing police agencies that simulators can solve?
Chuck Deakins: Simulators can significantly reduce officer risk and agency liability. Simulators are not games; they are full training systems that can save lives! Used properly, they can change an agency’s “culture” toward high-liability, high-risk encounters such as use-of-force, pursuit, and emergency response driving.
James Peters: The four biggest issues facing all law enforcement agencies — no matter the size or what part of the country they’re in — is budget cuts, ammo shortages, lack of live-fire ranges and the lawsuits that follow.
Today’s world is very different than it was even 14 years ago when I started my career in law enforcement, and so is technology. Although the initial cost can be significant to a department, simulators can significantly cut the overall costs for training long term.
From both my personal experiences and what I’ve seen training wise, as long as officers are using realistic weapons, getting realistic recoil from those weapons and increasing their stress levels significantly while making critical use of force decisions, then departments will lower their liability while enhancing their officers abilities to come home safe.
Robert McCue: Time management for training and trainee throughput: the systems are available 24/7, are not affected by weather, never need rest, and are always available for training day or night. Further, they provide a very standardized objective baseline to measure trainee performance against.
Unlike role-play exercises with live participants, the systems project the same stimulus in the same manner every time it is conducted, with no role-player performance deviations — like fatigue — to consider or deal with.
Jimmie McCoy: Budget. Training time, resources, travel, and range operations are expensive and often are only accomplished to satisfy minimum required training standards. Simulators can be used at any time, offer integration of each level of force as well as maintenance, testing and remediation of firearm — marksmanship and judgmental — skills, and provide a platform for the evaluation of Risk Assessment and Risk Management Objectives.
Essential training, especially marksmanship training, is only conducted a few times a year resulting in diminished shooting skills. Simulators can fill that gap by allowing departments year-round access to realistic shooting programs that keep their officers sharp and proficient.
What are the key things departments need to consider when buying simulators?
Chuck Deakins: First and foremost, an agency needs professional instructors that are strongly committed to improving officer safety and survival through simulation training programs. Simulators work, but not without dedicated instructors.
Secondly, purchasers must conduct their due diligence on the company they are purchasing from. These simulators are a significant expense and the high-tech industry is always changing, so they have to make sure they can continue a relationship with the company well into the future.
James Peters: Departments can sometimes get hung up on numbers provided by a simulator company for the sole purpose of selling a simulator. A company might have 1,000 scenarios but if your trainers will only use 10 of them because the same training objectives are just repeated 100 times each, then the simulator will sit in a closet/storage container somewhere after the first year.
The fact is that quality content and being under stress while making critical use of force decisions is what better prepares officers. This is potentially-lifesaving equipment and warrants a good investigation into what is the best training tool for your department.
Find out what companies are out there and before buying, visit the companies or bring the company out and have a wide range of your personnel, to include brand new officers, seasoned tactical officers, trainers, and administrators run through a couple of scenarios. This will help assure that you are getting opinions from personnel with no ulterior motives.
The company is going to be showing what they believe to be their best content. When it’s over, ask questions like “Did you feel like you learned something?” and “Did you feel that the scenario/s helped actually prepare you to make better critical use-of-force decisions in real life situations?”
Listen to the answers these officers that will be training inside the system and the trainers who you have entrusted to train your personal.
Robert McCue: Key considerations should include whether or not the system is to be static or mobile — this will affect the choice of system hardware, mounting choices, and accessories used — and what their key objectives are for the system. Is it for basic and advanced firearms training, practice qualifications, force options decision making and judgmental reactions, situational awareness and confidence building?
The end goals for training should be the starting point for evaluating what system and features help to attain those goals through technology.
Jimmie McCoy: Trust and reliability is primary. How long has the supplier been in business? Are their products known and used worldwide and by multiple agencies and disciplines? Will the company be there if I need them? Does the company provide system training?
Equally as important is the technology itself. Will it provide your agency with the training tools necessary to prepare your officers? What are the technical elements of the system? Is it easy to use and does it support the department’s training objectives?
Does the system address the human elements — integrated training abilities that support escalation and de-escalation of use-of-force scenarios — officer presence, verbal commands, empty-handed techniques, as well as intermediate tools such as baton, TASER, OC spray, and the ultimate use of deadly force with firearms?
Weapons quality and availability is critical. The system itself should operate effectively and serve the needs of the department. However, weapons that are true to fit, form and function that wirelessly communicate with the system allow officers to engage in a more true to life scenario. Who has the best quality realistic firearms and less lethal weapons that perform exactly like the issued weapons of your department? Are they wireless and fully-sensored?
We know that computer-based training simulators — when properly integrated into a complete curriculum of use-of-force/live-fire and behind-the-wheel EVOC training — have tremendous benefits for officer safety.
We recently connected with four of the top industry experts in the area of police simulators — Chuck Deakins, James Peters, Rob McCue, and Jimmie McCoy — to get their thoughts on the challenges, solutions, and future prospects for this continually-developing technology.
In part one of this two-part series, we discussed the biggest issues facing police agencies that simulators can solve, as well as the key things departments need to consider when buying simulators. Here we’ll investigate mistakes that departments sometimes make during the testing and evaluation process, as well as some of our experts’ suggested best practices for using training simulators.
What mistakes do departments make during the testing and evaluation process?
Chuck Deakins: Agencies don’t always commit sufficient resources to conduct proper research of the systems including manufacturer site visits, service availability, hardware replacement, and warranty programs.
It is critical to compare “apples to apples” and think long-term on this one.
James Peters: A major mistake is when they don’t do a complete testing and evaluation process. You wouldn’t buy a new patrol vehicle, switch to a new handgun or purchase new body armor without ever putting your hands on the product. The same should apply to your department’s simulator purchase.
Robert McCue: Often, we see bids and evaluations that place the highest emphasis on minor technology specifications and requirements that do not add to the overall training capability of the system. For instance, agencies will require a firm bid specification on a projector to be 3,000 lumens minimum and a contrast ratio of 10000:1, and failing to start with asking, “Can this system we are evaluating actually help us with relative to our training goals?”
The hardware specifications are important, but having a high-contrast projector system means very little if the system you get doesn’t include any realistic less-lethal options, or a detailed after-action review capability for trainee skills improvement.
Lastly, avoid evaluating a simulator as a cure-all or a replacement for current training issues — a diminished supply of training ammo, for example. The systems are not designed to replace traditional forms of training like regular live-fire exercises, but simply as another tool that instructors can use to augment and increase training capabilities and output.
Jimmie McCoy:By not realizing that the simulator is a tool, it is not the training instructor. Too often departments look at the simulator as a game, and view the scenario on the screen — watch the movie — rather than realize the ability of the training officer to develop interactive lesson plans designed to challenge and test the officers’ decision making capabilities as well as their knowledge, skills and abilities.
Most participants will start a judgmental exercise with their weapon drawn regardless of the situation. This is a result of the “gaming mentality” and peer pressure that comes from co -workers looking on during the evaluation. During the evaluation, participants should emulate the same behavior that is displayed during an actual encounter.
What are some of your suggested best practices for using training simulators?
Chuck Deakins: Without a doubt, use adult-learning concepts with practical application exercises. Instructors need to stop talking and start training. Officers learn best when they participate in ‘hands-on’ training. Simulators are very hands-on.
James Peters: As a trainer, you should not believe a box exists. Research done by Force Science suggests that unless we train/test under stress, we are not preparing our officers to make better critical use of force decisions in dynamic situations.
Besides quality content, the other way to increase stress is through the use of a shoot-back device. Two main shoot-back devices exist: the shoot-back cannon and the Threat-Fire electronic impulse device. I believe the Threat-Fire electronic impulse device to be the best based on ease-of-use, less down time with cleanup, less potential for an accident, and no need for eye protection allowing trainees “to train like they play”.
Another thing departments have to remember is that life does not happen in a 60-degree field of view directly in front of you. Even on a live-fire square range, where you focus and shoot only downrange for safety reasons, we tell our trainees to scan their 360 after they complete a course of fire.
Having said that, if your department can only afford a single-screen simulator, additional “things” like people, props, and threats will be needed. A recent Force Science article suggested that unless props and other assets are used in conjunction with single screen simulators, officer’s heart rates never really increase enough to force a critical use-of-force decision in a stressful situation.
Robert McCue: Instructors always set the tone. If they take simulator training seriously, and have a well thought-out lesson plan supported by examples of required performance standards in the simulator, the trainees will take it seriously, too, and learn and retain more.
Also it’s important to have the trainees in full uniform when they are in the simulator when possible — duty belts, gloves, helmets, body armor — whatever they typically wear on standard duty or specialized missions.
Lastly, safety is important. Ensure that all department safety rules are adhered to before and during simulator training — live firearms are to be cleared and secured, and firearms safety and awareness rules are to be used with simulator weapons. This will ensure that the simulator training sessions are engaging and intense, and will result in better-trained and more-confident officers on the street.
Jimmie McCoy: A virtual marksmanship and judgmental firearms trainer is a tool, so to use it effectively training objectives need to be developed. Lesson plans that effectively integrate scenarios, weapons, and tactics must be developed.
And you have to have regular use of the system. The benefit of a marksmanship and judgmental trainer is access — so officers should use the system often to maintain fundamental marksmanship skills.
Finally, ensure your officers leave the simulator training session with a positive attitude, as they will carry this with them into the field.
Via – Police One