VirTra’s use-of-force simulators have a vast number of scenarios covering everything from de-escalation to active threats. The scope broadens even more when the number of branching options is considered, allowing multiple ways to reach a resolution. With an average of 85 branching options per scenario, no single event is guaranteed to go a certain way – just like in the field, where  unpredictability is part of the job.

The Instructor Takes the Lead on Scenarios

Instructors can drive a scenario in any direction based on the student’s interaction with the on-screen character. VirTra’s branching features allow for instructors to manipulate the evolution to achieve any manner of training objective. The objective could be based upon policy, best practices, or vital training like de-escalation. Trainers can reward good behavior by having an aggressive character become compliant because proper de-escalation techniques were used. On the other hand, students who are not performing well can be encouraged to step up their game.

Usually, departmental policy dictates what skillset trainees will be developing during recurrent training. With our branching options, instructors can accomplish departmental training objectives by running each trainee through the same scenario, however using our branching function the scenario can play out differently based on individual performance. If the same scenario with the same pathway to resolution is run multiple times, students learn to “game” the system and recall what happens next. Giving an instructor to change things up prevents trainees from becoming complacent.

Branching Scenarios

An example of a VirTra scenario is “Midnight Madness,” where the officer is responding to an active threat in a theater. They chase an armed male suspect after navigating the theater and seeing injured victims. In the end, what will the suspect do? Will he give up or will he begin to fire his weapon? Will the trainee fire back in time or be hit by gunfire? What if an innocent person pops out and startles the trainee, causing them to fire their weapon? Each action has different consequences – just like in reality.

Another scenario called “Teacher’s Pet” features a broad array of branching options. The image below shows only a portion of the available options.

As VirTra aims to create a realistic experience during training, the content must not be brushed over. Screens and hardware may be impressive, but what the trainee gets out of the experience could save lives.

For more information about VirTra’s intense and effective simulator training options, contact a product specialist.

The human brain is a complex system that allows us to focus our attention, process information, generate responses, and carry out behaviors. These processes are critical to our ability to perform various tasks and interact and perform within the world around us. Officers must rely on this to make rapid and high-impact decisions daily. Anxiety can significantly impact our cognitive processing and attentional control, ultimately affecting our performance. In this article, we will explore the mechanisms involved in cognitive processing, attentional control, and the impact of anxiety on these systems.

What Does Anxiety Do?

Anxiety can have a significant impact on performance by interfering with attentional processing and altering the neural mechanisms involved in cognitive processing. It increases distractibility, decreases the ability to focus selectively on important information, and generates negative thoughts and emotions that distract from the task at hand. Anxiety has also been shown to activate the amygdala, which processes emotional information and interferes with the normal functioning of the prefrontal cortex. This can lead to increased sensitivity to errors and decreased performance.

How Training in a Simulated Environment Can Help

The VirTra simulators provide a critical, experimental, controlled environment where we can develop confidence in our skills and coping strategies to negate anxiety. The Behavior Analysis Threat Recognition course is a perfect example. This NCP-certified course provides the ability to increase the difficulty and threat to match the participant level. Instructors can continue to push it or back it down if needed. This allows for techniques such as positive self-talk, cyclic sighing, or forced attentional drive to be honed.

The neural mechanisms involved in cognitive processing and attentional control play a critical role in our ability to perform various tasks and interact with the world. Anxiety can significantly impact performance by altering these systems. Understanding how anxiety affects attentional and cognitive processes is essential for developing strategies to mitigate its negative impact on performance. The VirTra simulators provide a highly flexible and adaptable tool to build the mitigation skills.

You may have heard the story of Deputy Kyle Dinkheller’s murder during an officer-involved shooting. The event was tragic, but Dinkheller lives on with how his story has helped train recruits and officers alike.

The original dashcam footage gave insight into a few tactics that were not properly used – or in some cases, not used at all. Some of the training points to look at include vehicle contact and approach, utilizing the radio for backup, and force options.

Vehicle Approach and Driver Exit

When Dinkheller pulled over Andrew Brannan, he asked him to step out of his vehicle to talk to him. This was what his agency’s training had officers do, however it is generally agreed upon that it is easier to control a person inside a vehicle.

A situation that seems mindless but can have serious consequences is how you approach the vehicle. There are many things to be aware of, such as:

  • Not positioning yourself or walking between the two vehicles. If the subject is in the car, they may shift to reverse. If the squad car is rear ended while you speak to the subject between the cars, you and the subject could be pinned between them.
  • Where to use the vehicle for cover and concealment. Using the length of the vehicle can provide cover.
  • Use the passenger side approach when possible, as it is typically the safest.

During vehicle approach, staying within the mitigation zone1 and maintaining control of where the subject is positioned can greatly increase safety.

“Man With a Gun” – When to Call for Backup

When Dinkheller used his radio to request backup, it caused Brannan to become more agitated. Sometimes negative reactions occur when a call is made within earshot of a subject, so officers should be mindful of when and where they use their radio.

Additionally, if you are engaged in the threat, your priority should be addressing it. Teaching officers to call for backup during a use of force event should be avoided. It can create a training scar with serious effects, such as not addressing the current situation, but relying on other units that may not arrive immediately.

The Right Tools, The Right Way

During the time of Dinkheller’s murder, ECW devices were not widely used. Dinkheller used a collapsible baton to get Brannan to stop his actions, but it was not used with full force. The hit combined with the fact that Brannan had a contaminated mindset made it so the strike had no effect. When a subject is mentally ill or under the influence of a substance, they do not always respond to pain compliance techniques.

Another less-lethal option would be going hands-on. If a subject is not listening to the commands given, an officer may start by grabbing the subject and trying to restrain them. Dinkheller, unfortunately, did not attempt to go hands-on although he could have based on Brannan’s actions.

Finally, there is the lethal option which could have been utilized at a certain point into the encounter. Dinkheller had a rifle available to him in the trunk of his squad car – a storage position that was normal for his agency at that time. Long guns should ideally be kept in the driver area of the squad for easier and faster access.

Putting the Techniques into Practice

The newest curriculum by VirTra – “My Story: Dinkheller” – gives officers of all experience levels a chance to learn from this past event. Instructors have access to training materials such as an instructor manual, slide presentation, testing material, and more. It can easily be taught to students right out of the box and is free for VirTra customers.

Along with the coursework is a brand-new scenario that puts you in a similar situation to what Dinkheller went through. You are on a rural road on a traffic stop with a mentally ill subject. What will you do in that position? Will you use de-escalation and be able to verbally calm the man, or possibly use a less lethal device? There are 80+ branching options depending on the user’s actions or the instructor’s choice.

See the video below for a glimpse at what this scenario is like. If you would like more information on this course, visit this page here.


  1. Lewinksi, W. D. (2013). The influence of officer positioning on movement during a threatening traffic stop scenario. Law Enforcement Executive Forum, 13(1), 98-109.

Since 1962, every May on the week of the 15th we celebrate National Police Week. It is a time where everyone pays respects to law enforcement members who have lost their lives in the line of duty, as well as honoring those who serve in the present and past. May 15th is also Peace Officer Memorial Day.

According to last year’s data compiled by National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF), 226 members of law enforcement died in the line of duty in 2022. Compared to 568 who lost their lives in 2021, this is thankfully a significant decrease. You can view the data report here for a detailed breakdown.

Our mission that we keep at the forefront of our minds is to help police officers return home safely every day. We hope that our training can provide not only safer communities but safer members of law enforcement. While we cannot possibly stop every incident from happening, our goal is to reduce the frequency of the unfortunate injuries and deaths of our heroes.

As an annual tradition, NLEOMF schedules various events throughout the week and days prior that engage communities in commemorating officers. One way this is done is through the Annual Candlelight Vigil at the National Mall in Washington, DC that took place Saturday, May 13. We believe this is a beautiful way to express appreciation and remembrance.

The staff at VirTra want to express our gratitude to all U.S. police officers for protecting our communities. It is also just as important to remember the lives lost on duty. So, we say once again to all active and retired first responders at local, tribal, state and federal levels: Thank you.




If you have been following VirTra for any amount of time, you may have noticed that we put great emphasis on our content. High-definition video and advanced hardware are not the only aspects that aid in training law enforcement. Most important is the training content that ensures effective knowledge transfer. VirTra’s efforts even go beyond intense and realistic scenarios – the VirTra content team of subject matter experts create curriculum for instructors to utilize in a fast, simple way.

This curriculum, known as V-VICTA® (VirTra – Virtual Interactive Coursework Training Academy) pairs VirTra’s immersive scenarios with actual NCP certified materials. VirTra customers receive lesson plans, scoring rubrics, presentations, class surveys and more. We know that it is time-consuming and difficult to create your own curriculum and have it certified, so VirTra has done all the legwork for its training partners.


Training that Transfers

V-VICTA has proven to be effective for Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission (CJTC). Todd Brophy, the Firearms Range Training Coordinator, has incorporated the curriculum into his force options instruction classes. Brophy allows the CJTC students to learn in a classroom setting first, then coaches them while they practice in one of the 10 units, they use VirTra simulations for in their Firearms Program.

“The feedback we are consistently getting from the students is ‘we need more of this,’” said Brophy, who likes to allow his students to work in pairs for practice in communication skills and contact & cover concepts. “The students seem to enjoy the training and provide feedback of what they are taking away at the end of the session consistent with the learning goals and objectives we have identified for each training segment.”

Brophy’s successful method of using the curriculum combines his existing teaching modalities with V-VICTA’s. V-VICTA can be used in tandem with pre-developed ideas, or just used right out of the box. Some of the certified courses offered include:

Beyond VirTra’s in-house subject matter experts, we also partner with industry experts to ensure the quality of content. Before becoming available to customers, every course is submitted to IADLEST for NCP certification. IADLEST rigorously reviews every course to ensure it meets standards before it ever meets customer systems.

To receive V-VICTA and its updated content, you must be a current VirTra customer on an Annual Service Plan. To find out more about how to obtain V-VICTA curriculum, contact a product specialist here.

In 1998, Deputy Kyle Dinkheller was fatally shot during a traffic stop. The aftermath left his family and colleagues heartbroken, but his death was not in vain. The incident brought on a deeper look into police training, agency culture, and much more. In this way, Deputy Dinkheller has saved lives even after his passing.

The Incident and How it Became an Important Training Lesson

One of the first officer involved critical incidents recorded on a dashcam, 22-year-old Dinkheller struggled to control Vietnam combat veteran Andrew Brannan. Eventually Brannan retrieved a gun from his vehicle and ultimately shot and killed Dinkheller. You can watch the full video here.

It is important to keep in mind that officers had different tools in 1998. Almost no officers carried ECW / CEW devices and the use of a baton (like the one Dinkheller used) was more common. Still, there were several lessons to be learned by future officers, making this event more than just an unfortunate story.

Lessons Learned

  • Take care when calling for backup. Do it at an appropriate time and not when you should be addressing the threat. You may also want to call when a subject is not within earshot, if possible. During this incident, Brannan flew into a rage when he heard Dinkheller request backup on his radio.
  • Do not allow the subject to move around freely. Unless you have stated they can get back in their vehicle, they should not have the opportunity to walk back to their car – let alone reach in to retrieve something.
  • Command with Confidence. When reviewing the dashcam footage, it is apparent that Dinkheller’s voice sounds shaky and unsure. With a more commanding approach, you may be less likely to be challenged.
  • Position yourself and the subject appropriately. When speaking with the subject outside of the vehicle, standing between the two cars could put you both at risk. If a car were to rear end your squad, you may be pinned between the two cars. Be sure to allow space for reaction time in case the subject decides to run towards their vehicle or you.
  • Leadership and policies can impact officers’ actions. At one time, Dinkheller was forced to write an apology letter after stopping someone who was friends with the Sheriff. Unnecessary or inappropriate discipline like this can cause an officer to hesitate to take action.

VirTra’s “My Story”

The new course “My Story: Kyle Dinkheller” gives officers a different perspective of the incident that has been in so many training videos. The coursework is accompanied by a true-to-life scenario with more than 50 branching options. The traffic stop scenario allows for the officer to use de-escalation, less lethal tools, or lethal force depending on what the situation requires.

To obtain this coursework, you must be a current VirTra customer and on an Annual Service Plan. For more information, visit this webpage.


Originally published by Police1

The science behind simulation training is robust and well-established. However, many police trainers are not taking full advantage of simulators to not only impact outcomes but to improve the use of law enforcement’s limited training time.

There are many ways agencies can leverage these advantages. Accounting for the critical influence of the spacing effect and interleaving can have positive impacts on training efficacy.


The spacing effect is an established phenomenon in psychology that has been supported by several studies. [1-3]

By spacing out study sessions, the brain can consolidate information more effectively and transfer it from short-term memory to long-term memory enhancing learning and retention. [1,4]

Rather than cramming (massing) all necessary training into a single session, spread it out over several sessions. This will give officers time to process and consolidate the information they are learning, which can improve their retention of the material. [4]

Research has shown that spaced training sessions can improve the retention of skills and knowledge, [4] as well as reduce the risk of errors and accidents. This effect can be particularly useful in police firearms training, as it can help officers to learn and retain the necessary skills to use their weapons safely and effectively.

Many agencies engage in a quarterly 10-hour training day, or some type of massed practice. The reality is a half hour each week spread over that same quarter provides more training value.

I recommend a method called “extended briefing training.” This concept maximizes the value of the overlap that often occurs when one shift is coming to work while another is still on the road. This shift overlap provides a training opportunity that can mitigate overtime and staffing issues connected to training and bring significant results. These micro-training moments are impactful. When the simulator is available for this extended briefing training it can facilitate spaced practice. The VirTra simulator and certified VICTA content would allow for a 15-20min firearms practice session on Monday, work on contact and cover on Tuesday, threat discrimination on Wednesday, and de-escalation on Thursday. The following week these and other skills can be worked in.


Interleaving training involves mixing up different types and practice exercises rather than focusing on just one type at a time.

For example, rather than spending an entire session practicing one shooting technique, officers could alternate between practicing different techniques, engaging in scenario-based training, and reviewing relevant policies and procedures. This can help enhance learning by forcing officers to apply their skills and knowledge in a more varied and challenging context. [5,6]

Simulation training is a powerful way to create interleaving. Using a three-screen or five-screen simulator, concepts such as contact and cover, less-lethal deployment, de-escalation, active shooter and basic firearms skills can all be mixed into the training session. This prevents Maslow’s Hammer problem, where if you are over-reliant on a hammer, you are more apt to treat everything as if it is a nail. It also forces a key piece of all law enforcement contacts: decision-making.

This type of practice involves breaking training sessions into shorter, more frequent sessions, rather than one long session. For example, rather than conducting a four-hour training session, or that 10-hour session mentioned earlier, officers could instead have four one-hour training sessions spread out over several weeks. This can help to minimize the effects of fatigue and enhance learning. [7] Allowing officers to train with a deliberate focus on it, minus the fatigue that sets in mentally and physically within an hour for most, provides advantages over longer, less focused sessions.

Overall, by using the spacing effect and interleaving to enhance police training, officers can improve their ability to use their weapons safely and effectively and train in decision-making while reducing the risk of accidents and errors on the job. This can ultimately contribute to the safety and well-being of both officers and the communities they serve.



1. Cepeda NJ, Pashler H, Vul E, Wixted JT, Rohrer D. (2006.) Distribute practice in verbal recall tasks: A review of quantitiative synthesis. Psychological Bulletin, 132(3), 354-380.

2. Donovan JJ, Radosevich DJ. (1999.) A meta-analytic review of the distribution of practice effect: Now you see it, now you don’t. Journal of Applied Psychology, 84(5), 795-805.

3. Roediger HL, Karpicke JD. (2006.) The Power of Testing Memory: Basic Research and Implications for Educational Practice. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 1(3), 181–210.

4. Anderson R, Sebaldt A, Lin Y, Cheng A. (2019.) Optimal training frequency for acquisition and retention of high-quality CPR skills: a randomized trial. Resuscitation, 135, 153-161.

5. Shea JB, Morgan RL. (1979.) Contextual Interference Effects on the Acquisition, Retention, and Transfer of a Motor Skill. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Learning and Memory, 5, 179-187.

6. Taylor K, Rohrer D. (2010.) The effects of interleaved practice. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 24(6), 837-848.

7. Dempster FN. (1989.) Distributing and managing the conditions of encoding and practice. In L. S. Cermak & F. I. M. Craik (Eds.), Levels of processing in human memory (pp. 317-344). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

April is National Autism Awareness Month. Around this time in 2020, VirTra released the “Autism Awareness” course to help law enforcement recognize the signs of autism. This would not have been achieved without the partnership and expertise of SARRC – Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center.

Since the inception of this training program, agencies all around the country have received the coursework and scenarios. Some agencies such as Utah Attorney General’s (UAG) Office have made VirTra’s Autism Awareness training a requirement. So, what has happened with VirTra, SARRC, and the autism community since 2020?

Autism Training Program Adoption

The UAG inspired Utah agencies to adopt the Autism Awareness training program. In fact, Utah Governor Cox signed H.B. 162 (peace officer training amendments) and H.B. 334 (special needs training for law enforcement). These two bills required POST training to include 16 hours of training on autism and mental illnesses. The training programs include the use of classwork, bodycam review, and VirTra’s simulated scenarios to familiarize officers with autism spectrum disorder.

Additionally, the UAG received the Best of State award for their Virtual Reality Training Center and the lessons officers learn from it – including Autism Awareness. Sean Reyes of the UAG even received the First Annual Autism Award in 2021 for the impact they’ve made by teaching officers about autism.

Even in 2020 when the program was barely released to the public, VirTra received positive feedback from Chief Muma of Jerome Police Department in AZ. “I really thought it was well developed,” said Muma during a video interview. “It brought forth something that I don’t think we’ve had in the field… It’s provided something that has been lacking in the industry for a long time.”

SARRC’s Major Achievements

A lot has happened since SARRC was formed in 1997. What was once considered a 1 in 500 diagnosis has shifted due to further research. Now, it is reported that 1 in 36 children are diagnosed with autism. According to SARRC’s recent statistics, here is what they have provided for the autism community and their families just over the past year:

  • Provided 151K clinical intervention hours with those on the autism spectrum and their families.
  • Served 1.1K individuals with autism through clinical and research programs.
  • Screened 251 individuals through the Diagnostics Services program.
  • Educated 125 children with and without autism in SARRC’s Community School program.

VirTra values our partnership with SARRC not only because of the great assistance they have provided us in releasing our coursework to law enforcement. We also truly believe in their mission and drive to make the world a better place for those with autism spectrum disorder.

The Future of Autism Awareness

The country has made great strides in not only diagnosis, but in educating the public about the signs of autism and how to communicate with someone on the spectrum. People who are communicating with a wide variety of citizens every day – such as police officers – are especially deserving of this type of training.

In the past, there have been unfortunate instances where officers have mistaken autistic behaviors as “suspicious” or even drug-related. With the number of agencies now receiving training and the general public awareness of the disorder, we hope to see the number of these situations decrease significantly.

To learn how to obtain the Autism Awareness course, contact a VirTra specialist.


The biggest part of a training experience is its content. Big screens and fancy headsets may be flashy and eye-catching, but without the content to learn from, they won’t do much. Making high-quality scenarios that users can learn from involves many steps, extensive planning, and rigorous testing,


Creation with the Client in Mind

Before anything else, it must be determined what kind of scenarios our training partners will benefit from the most. Using suggestions from clients and keeping current affairs in mind, treatments are written by the SME’s. For example, in the wake of the George Floyd incident, the Content Department immediately began working on the “Duty to Intervene” videos and scenarios. It then goes to the director to be made into a working script and shot lists.

Since the addition of the V3™ Volumetric Capture Studio, VirTra will be capturing real people and inserting them into scenarios as 3D objects that can be used on both screen-based and VR platforms. It tackles the limitations of CGI. This ensures that the environment and characters are believable, thus leading to a more valuable training experience.


Professional Filming Sessions

Where some simulation companies use video filmed from a cell phone, VirTra involves professional equipment and actors. CGI used in most training simulations is simply not realistic enough to elicit emotional responses. In fact, some CGI characters “speak” without their lips even moving. Having a real person shown on-screen increases sympathetic response and more closely mimics real life.

The VirTra Difference involves professional equipment and paid actors. These filming sessions can take hours or sometimes multiple days to ensure footage acquired is up to standard. In-house subject matter experts who have law enforcement and/or military experience are on the set. This ensures the content being filmed will have relevance and realistic actions.


The End Product

After filming is wrapped up, the next step is editing and creating the dozens of branching options. Situations in the real world are fluid and evolving, so our scenarios are designed this way too. During an active shooter event, the suspect may drop their weapon and surrender, or begin firing at the officer. A seemingly calm person could pull a knife if the wrong words are used to communicate. All these possibilities must be edited and programmed.

Upon completion, scenarios are added to existing simulators and all new ones assembled going forward. Some scenarios and training videos are used in tandem with V-VICTA® curriculum. This coursework is NCP-certified by IADLEST and includes training manuals, testing materials, and more. We want to take the hard work out of the learning process so instructors can get their lessons right out of the box.


If you are interested in adopting this technology, contact a product specialist. Check out the video below for a quick rundown of how just a single scenario is filmed in a professionally organized manner.

Being a law enforcement officer is admirable. Police officers put their own lives in risk to defend the lives of their community members. Unfortunately, part of the job involves seeing distressing incidents. Whether they are involved personally or a witness, these events can take a toll – it’s only human and doesn’t imply weakness.

Because it’s known that a law enforcement career is stressful and every day presents a possibility of a critical incident, discussing how to work through or even prevent line of duty trauma is necessary. Seeking help must be a part of every agency’s culture, reducing the number of officers who feel “weak” for requiring assistance.

What is Trauma and How Does it Affect Us?

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), trauma is a response to a negative event such as an accident, death, rape, or natural disaster. Even if a person is not directly involved in the incident, they could experience trauma simply from viewing it. It is possible to be traumatized after even hearing a story of what happened to someone. Anyone can be traumatized – even those who are not first responders.

After a traumatic event, officers may experience little to no symptoms at all. Everyone reacts to a traumatic situation differently, and there is no right or wrong response. If you see or are involved in a terrible situation, you may experience no signs of trauma – and that does not mean something is wrong with you.

Officers who have a negative impact may experience flashbacks and emotional changes. The APA also mentions the possibility of physical symptoms as well. How long the effects last can vary based on the individual, but symptoms of trauma can affect a person’s ability to manage relationships. They may have difficulty returning to work, especially if the traumatic experience was witnessed on the job.

Coping with Trauma

It’s not always as easy as jumping back into your usual routine after experiencing a traumatic event. Needing help or even someone to vent to does not make a person weak, but it helps them move forward and cope in a healthy way.

With law enforcement, it can be harder to come forward about needing help. The officer may want to continue fulfilling his or her duty to their community rather than taking time away. In some unfortunate cases, their agency may not foster a great environment for mental health.

Supervisors should make an effort to recognize signs that someone is having difficulty coping with trauma. Listen to their concerns without making them feel weak or that their concerns are invalid or senseless.

Resilience Skills

Like taking your car to the shop for service or going for a health checkup at the doctor’s office, your brain benefits from preventative care. Dr. Robbie Adler-Tapia, psychologist and author of “One Badge One Brain One Life” details the type of “maintenance” that can be done to keep your mind healthy.

Physical things such as getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising, and taking care of your health are vital. They are simple things that everyone talks about, but they play a big role in your overall wellness – even mental wellness. Other tips include breathing exercises to help you unwind and stay in the moment.

When work is stressful, take time to not only breathe, but wiggle your toes, massage your hands, and stand up to stretch. Be sure to take advantage of breaks! It may seem impressive to be able to work through all of them, but sometimes unwinding even for a few minutes can sharpen your mind and improve performance.

Before you go home, make it a practice to “empty your container.” Anything you do not need to hold onto after your shift should be let go so you don’t go to bed with additional stress. Your family will appreciate it too, as stress at work can sometimes be brought home and affect personal relationships.

VirTra is here to help too! Utilizing V-VICTA® certified curriculum, we hope to make training easier and incorporate wellness techniques in some of our courses. If you’d like more information on our coursework, contact a specialist.



American Psychological Association –

One Badge One Brain One Life –

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