Back in the early 2000’s, the CDC reported 1 in 150 children had ASD (1)—autism spectrum disorder. Fast forward to 2018, the numbers increased to 1 in 54 children with autism. Now, as more data is gathered and more parents/ caretakers are aware of the signs, the latest data shows that 1 in 44 children are diagnosed with ASD.

The jump in numbers, especially considering the short span of time, can be due to a variety of reasons. But at the end of the day, what this means for us is that officers will be interacting with ASD individuals if they know it or not. As instructors, it is our job to ensure officers are aware of the signs and equipped with the proper communication skills so interactions with ASD individuals go as smooth as possible for everyone involved.

As such, autism training needs to be extensive, understood and reviewed often. What many don’t realize is that 40% of individuals with ASD are nonverbal (2)—another communication challenge that officers must overcome. Or that 31% of children with ASD have an intellectual disability that creates significant challenges in daily function (2). So even if your department currently engages in autism training, does it cover the entire range of autistic disabilities and communication differences?

The best way to ensure complete, proper training is to utilize nationally-certified training curriculum. For example, VirTra’s Training and Curriculum department worked with the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC) to create our certified “Autism Awareness” curriculum. Having SARRC as a partner provided us with valuable insight into autism, which we transfer to officers by teaching how to recognize the signs, communication strategies and how to reduce confusion and risk. This is accomplished through a combination of presentations, handbooks, videos and practice scenarios—as delivered by the instructor—for well-rounded training.

Training your officers about autism is not only important—it is expected. Communities have voiced their concerns and expectations and it is our job to fulfill them. One great example of this is the West Jordan Police Department, which underwent autism training consisting of VirTra’s curriculum and discussions with community members. After, Chief Ken Wallentine stated: “We’re astonished at the positive comments from our officers. They feel much better prepared to handle calls for service involving persons with autism and to practice empathy in an effective way.”

Engaging in autism training has a ripple effect that helps your officers, who in turn, help their communities. April is Autism Awareness Month, making it no better time to get started. Help us spread awareness and better training by sharing our message.

 

This article was originally published in IADLEST April 2022 Newsletter

 

References

  1. “Data & Statistics on Autism Spectrum Disorder.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2 Dec. 2021, https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/data.html.
  2. “Autism Statistics and Facts.” Autism Speaks, https://www.autismspeaks.org/autism-statistics-asd

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.

According to preliminary data compiled by National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF), 458 members of law enforcement died in the line of duty. Compared to 295 who lost their lives in 2020, this is a 55% increase. Whether it was due to traffic accidents, shootings or COVID-related illness, last year had the highest total of fatalities since 1930.

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. In 2022, this will take place Friday, May 13 at 8:00 pm EST. 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.

 

References:

https://nleomf.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/2021-EOY-Fatality-Report-Final-web.pdf

Every once in a while, you hear about an encounter with a civilian that proved to be a close call. Whether it’s from a news story or a fellow officer, it’s nerve-wracking to think it could happen to you. Even some of VirTra’s training scenarios that recruits might think will never happen, very well could happen.

A recent example of this occurred in Oakland, California. An officer from Oakland Police Department was able to get out of a terrifying situation that may have turned deadly. Crediting the great response of his backup and the solid training he had received, he was unharmed.

A Man with a Sword

Though a knife or gun are the typical weapon of choice, some subjects are more creative, such as the male the Oakland PD officer encountered. The object appeared at first as a long stick from afar, but as they made contact, the officer could see that it was a sheathed sword.

The Oakland officer recalled the following details about this encounter:

I asked him to put the sword down on the hood of a nearby vehicle. The male complied and I called officers that were on duty and told him to send me cover units for a man armed with a sword. I continued to stall the male while waiting for cover units. The male continued to put his hands in his pocket and continued to move closer to the sword. I continued to tell the male to keep his hands out of his pocket and to back away from the sword. The male would comply but would continue the same behavior. I continued to update on the phone with the officer of the situation while waiting for the cover units. The male continued to move towards the sword. I then grabbed the sword from the hood of the car to prevent him from reaching it.”

The officer’s backup arrived shortly after and were able to take the man into custody with no further issues.

The Training

Oakland PD’s Training Academy has been using their V-300® since 2020. Training in the simulator and going through various de-escalations has helped the responding officer make safe decisions quickly. He found that the many scenarios that allow de-escalation and “talking through” situations were of assistance. This was especially the case when he had to delay the agitated male while waiting for backup.

“I believe VirTra is a great training tool and helps prepare officers in dealing with similar situations using practical and realistic scenarios” said the Oakland PD officer. “It allows you to go through scenarios and debrief what went right and what you could possibly do differently. He also mentioned that using VirTra as a training method is fun and keeps officers engaged.

The Takeaways

When asked how he believes other officers should utilize VirTra scenarios, he answered simply. “Take the training seriously.” Instead of gaming the system or running through scenarios as if they were just a ‘check-the-box’ training event, go through them as if they were really happening, he suggested.

VirTra’s scenarios are filmed in video – not unrealistic CGI – for exactly this reason. Content developers and subject matter experts believe in the power of high-fidelity scenarios to create lifelike events. Every situation is different; some requiring force, others requiring verbal communication. In the story told by the Oakland PD officer, he was able to resolve a terrifying situation by simply communicating.

“I think the most important thing in these situations is to remain calm and rely on your training and the help of your fellow officers,” he said in conclusion after recounting the event.

*Special thanks to Oakland PD and the Oakland Training Academy for sharing their success story.

Imagine you are training in an immersive law enforcement simulator. The screens darken, then light up with a desert scene as the dispatch relays information on the call you are responding to. Pedestrians give you further information about the event, then point you towards a man sitting on a ledge. It becomes clear: this is a suicide call and you need to carefully persuade the man to seek help, not jump. 

This is a difficult situation, but a necessary one to train for, as any officer can be called to prevent suicide. But as important as the training topic is, the method of training is just as important. For officers who train with VirTra’s systems, the scenario will unfold based on the officer’s actions and words, creating real-life training designed to benefit both officers and their communities. Officers can train in the same scenario multiple times, trying new de-escalation tactics or certain phrases, then see how the situation plays out. Does an action cause the man to comply, lash out or jump? Which verbiage best comes into play here? Instructors watch over the trainees and, depending on the officer’s choices, they choose the applicable branch in the situation and thus create a new ending. 

Virtual Interactive Coursework Training Academy 

The simulator itself is an incredible training tool, but what about combining the classroom and the simulator? VirTra created the V-VICTA® program, which is a series of nationally-certified curriculum that is first taught in the classroom then practiced in the simulator. This all-in-one training solution instills proper training and knowledge transfer, thus helping officers remember their training in the field and utilize it to help those around them. 

For example, one V-VICTA curriculum is “Autism Awareness.” This material teaches officers how to identify possible autistic behaviors and the best ways to interact with the subject. Officers who aren’t taught how to recognize and react accordingly to these behaviors could put the subject or themselves at risk. And, according to data from the CDC, 1 in 54 children are diagnosed with autism, making it extremely likely that every field officer will interact with someone on the spectrum. To improve safety for officers and every member of their community, they must first know how to best interact with every member of the community.  

Officer training is complex, but it is always centered around safety—for subjects, bystanders, partners and oneself. To learn more about VirTra’s V-VICTA training curriculum, or to try a training simulator at an upcoming trade show, contact a VirTra specialist.

There are key phrases that we hear in law enforcement training and culture. These include “I got your six” “watch your six” or “check your six.” These are referencing the importance of being able to look behind you at the 6 o’clock position to keep yourself safe and not get ambushed from behind. This “checking six” could be done by you by keeping your head “on a swivel” or by a partner who is “covering your six.”

These phrases are embedded in the vernacular of law enforcement and the military. Why is this the case? Because history has shown the attack we don’t see coming is the one that is going to take us out. By getting in the habit of “checking 6” we can negate the danger that resides in attacks from behind. These are an overwhelming threat, which needs to be addressed and trained for. With this principle being so critical to officer safety, why do we do such a horrible job training for them?

I have watched what Pat McNamara has called range theatrics – or what others have called the range dance. Where after a live-fire string we do a ‘body-turn, head-turn’ pretending to “check six” but don’t see anything. I have held up large printed cards and fingers and asked folks after their dance to tell me what they saw. I have held up fingers to see if they can identify the number and which ones are up. The universal answer is, “what do you mean?” The reason for this answer is that they don’t actually “see” anything. When it came to the fingers it was usually one held up and you can imagine which one based on the lack of situational awareness ability demonstrated.

This same thing can happen with single-screen training simulators. If not used properly, with a single-screen system, you are running the risk of building in training scars. The concept that we “don’t rise to the occasion, we default to our lowest level of training” has to be evaluated in this light. If we are creating emotional states inside the simulation (and we should be) yet we are not engaging in physical and mental skills we need in the real world, we could be creating failure points.

Single-screen systems are insanely difficult to create reverse angles on – not impossible, but difficult. The minimum standard to ensure this task can be done with high fidelity is a 180-degree system. This allows for that reverse angle to be threatened and the need to “check six.” You can create points of reference that requires the participant’s scan behavior by using simulated doors and windows taped off in a single-screen room, but that is not high fidelity. VirTra knew the value of a multiscreen system over 20 years ago – despite naysayers arguing that it was “too much” and “unnecessary.” VirTra pushed the training principle anyway.

I get it – most agencies will buy a single screen system and be thrilled they are running their judgmental shoot or weapon transitions. It is not bad to train with them if you are short on space, but it does not take much more room to set up a 180-degree high-quality simulator and force these angles. When it comes to purchasing a 180-degree or 300-degree system, I have heard the arguments on cost as well. VirTra offers a STEP program where access to the simulator is subscription-based and not a large capital purchase. This STEP program allows much access to a high-fidelity 180-degree/300-degree simulator for a lower starting point.

You can find space, even pairing up and hosting it with a research institute. There are ways to make high-quality high-fidelity 180-degree or ideally 300-degree simulators affordable, which are amazing training tools. They can be used for active threat/active killer (ATAK), TASER training, de-escalation, VirTra is here to make it affordable with the STEP program, because we got your six (IGY6)!

For more information on the STEP program, our content or our simulators, Contact Us.

The 5-screen, 300-degree V-300® was recently used in a study to determine the perceived effectiveness of simulation training for law enforcement. The way officers perceive the effectiveness of a style of training can affect how they perform – and by using the V-300, the study aimed to identify how officers perceive the “transferability of the training to the field” and how it compares to other types of training (p. 4).

The research article is titled “The association between participant characteristics and perceptions of the effectiveness of law enforcement tactical simulation training.” The study was written by members of the Lockwood Department of Criminal Justice as well as Monmouth University. It examined the perception of simulator training by 417 participating police officers and noted predictors of these perceptions.

As mentioned above, trainees who find a type of training valuable have a much higher chance of applying what they learned into real-world settings. The study found that “the vast majority of participants” believe the V-300 simulator training to be effective and transferrable (p. 9).

Additionally, the study provided numerous insights into simulation training. Researchers analyzed how various types of officers view and accept different training styles. Since the study included a variety of ages, races, education levels and ranks, the study was able to establish connections. Here are some interesting finds from the ‘Results’ and ‘Discussion’ sections (pp. 7-9):

• 90.1% of participating officers and recruits reported that the training provided ‘above average’ training in preparation for encounters with civilians.
• Participants employed by a municipal police department particularly believed the simulator to be effective, more so than other agency types.
• Older officers were less likely to believe simulator training is effective.
• More educated participants (bachelor’s degree or higher) were more likely to perceive the training as effective.

To read the study referenced, click here. You can also contact us to learn more about our simulators and how we can help provide transferrable training.

 

References:

John Comiskey, Brian Lockwood, Shannon Cunningham & Julia Arminio (2021) The association between participant characteristics and perceptions of the effectiveness of law enforcement tactical simulator training, Police Practice and Research, 22:6, 1655-1667, DOI: 10.1080/15614263.2021.1948848

There is plenty of uncertainty in law enforcement. Everything from situation outcomes to departmental budgets are subject to change based on factors out of our control. However, one thing that should never be uncertain is high-quality training. Proper training is what gives officers the tools to succeed and save lives in the field. Thanks to a new year’s worth of grants, departments can ensure their officers receive high-quality training, no matter the budget, community difficulties, or other factors.

High-quality training is oftentimes expensive because of its qualities. Curriculum created through a combination of subject matter experts and industry personnel, nationally-certified lessons, the most realistic accessories on the market. All of these are essential in the classroom, but it can be difficult for some departments to afford. To make it easier to obtain this technology, VirTra is compiling and sharing grant opportunities that can allow your department to purchase and utilize VirTra’s high-quality training.

Keep in mind that the following grants are very timely and you are encouraged to apply now. If you are reading this article a few months after publication, please see VirTra’s News for the timeliest grant articles!

Grants

Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act (LEMHWA)

The LEMHWA Program closes on April 29, so departments are encouraged to hurry! This program is giving out $7,500,000 to improve access to mental health and wellness services for law enforcement. As such, this includes: implementation of peer support, family resources, suicide prevention, technology for “fit for duty” tests and more. Submit your application here.

Edward Byren Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG)

This grant provides $20,000,000 to law enforcement officer training on racial profiling, de-escalation and duty to intervene. Each state has a specific allotment, with certain jurisdictions eligible to receive the grant. Access this information here.

Cops Office | STOP School Violence Act

The STOP School Violence Act—Student, Teachers, and Officers Preventing—is administering $53,000,000 via competitive grants. The funds are used for training school personnel (including SROs) and educating students on preventing violence, developing technology solutions, improving training and more. Get started on this grant.

Grants Guide

If your department needs extra help writing grants or researching, VirTra offers the Grant Assistance Program. This program provides instructors with free, one-on-one customized grant help dedicated solely to training simulations and firearm training projects. Instructors can receive help with the entire process—grant research, alert notices, application reviews, etc.—at no cost. Start receiving free grant assistance by clicking here!

If you need additional help or have questions, please feel free to contact a VirTra representative. Together, we can ensure your department has the funds to provide your officers with the best training available. Train hard, train smart, train VirTra.

“Keep your head on a swivel!” It is a phrase drilled into every trainee, every officer consistently by all instructors. There is no wonder why; knowing your surroundings at all times is critical, as it allows you to pinpoint threats, alternate routes, people in danger and more. But for this action to become second-nature, it must be practiced constantly, starting in the academy and continuing throughout one’s policing career. 

The good news is that most training events can teach officers to keep their heads on a swivel. For example, VirTra’s V-180® and V-300® immersive training simulators are designed to do just that.  

The V-180 Training Simulator 

The V-180 is a three-screen, 180-degree simulator which officers step up to. By surrounding the officer in VirTra’s seamless high-resolution video, officers feel like they are standing in the shown environment—not the classroom. As the scenario progresses, people and actions will occur on all three screens, teaching trainees to look around the alley, home, or other shown environment to fully understand the situation. To further training and reduce repetition, instructors have the ability to alter branches in the event, thus creating new events on different screens.  

The V-300 Training Simulator 

While the V-180 is a powerful training tool, the V-300 is the best law enforcement training simulator on the market. Instead of 3 screens, the V-300 boasts 5 screens, which surrounds officers in 300-degrees of real-life action. This training simulator takes the lesson “keep your head on a swivel” to the next level by requiring officers to move around the simulator to get all angles on the situation.  

A bigger training simulator allows more officers to train simultaneously, such as a unit, learning to cover one another. Having more screens also allows the scenario to feature events on more screens, which is shown in the VirTra scenario below. Watch as these officers engage in an Active Threat / Active Killer situation, which forces them to move around the simulator to pinpoint and stop all threats. 

Teaching your officers to keep their heads on a swivel is a critical tool that may save their lives—and the lives of civilians and suspects alike—in the field. To learn more about how VirTra can aid in this skill, or try it for yourself at an upcoming trade show, talk to a VirTra specialist. 

April is recognized as Autism Awareness Month. April 2nd is World Autism Awareness Day. On this month, businesses, charities, parents and those with autism themselves take extra time to spread awareness of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Individuals on the autism spectrum have unique communication needs that not everyone understands, but awareness has been gradually spreading and allowing growth of acceptance.

Why it’s Important to Understand Autism

The most recent data from the CDC states that 1 in 54 children are diagnosed with ASD. With this large number combined with the amount of people a single officer interacts with on a daily basis, it is inevitable that they will make contact with someone on the spectrum. Autism can appear in all ethnicities, genders and socioeconomic groups, and some who have it display very few traits.

Autism is referred to as a “spectrum” due to the wide range of traits presented. Sometimes it is nearly impossible to tell someone was has autism because they behave and interact the way neurotypical people do. On the other side of the spectrum, some people may be non-verbal and have heavy reliance on a caregiver.

There have been incidents around the United States where officers mistook autistic behaviors for suspicious activity. Due to self-stimulation (called “stimming”) methods and unique ways of communicating, officers have reacted improperly and traumatized people with ASD. As part of being a police officer involves building community trust, meeting individual needs is crucial.

How To Build Trust with the Autism Community

Due to the frequency of which law enforcement officers may interact with people on the spectrum, VirTra worked with Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC) to create certified curriculum for officers in 2020. This 2-hour coursework was certified at this time two years ago. It allows first responders to use their VirTra simulator to practice interactions with people on the spectrum. Titled “Autism Awareness,” it has been installed on hundreds of systems over the past two years.

This course is part of V-VICTA® – one of many NCP-certified courses that goes through rigorous review before becoming available to officers. Besides just giving written tips for how to handle interactions, officers have access to a walkthrough video featuring SARRC Director Daniel Openden. Scenarios also let officers practice interactions in branching scenarios filmed with actual people on the spectrum.

The Results of Awareness

Both VirTra and SARRC hope to see the number of officers using this curriculum grow. It does more than just paint police in a better light, but provides comfort to autistic individuals and their families. As mentioned, many current customers already have this coursework installed on their systems. We encourage you to get started if you haven’t already!

VirTra and SARRC were able to extensively test the Autism Awareness curriculum pre-launch. Current VirTra customers ran through the coursework, letting content developers know how it assisted them and what could be improved. One of which was Chief Muma of Jerome Police Department, who found great value in the training and was willing to provide it to his agency. The video below shows his testimony.

Contact us to learn more about how to utilize this curriculum in your department. We hope it will help awareness spread.

Ambush style attacks against police officers have been on the rise lately. Since 2017 in the Phoenix area alone, there has been a 31% increase in assaults against law enforcement. The reasons for the increase in attacks on LE are a hot potato issue right now and not something that we can solve here in the trainer’s corner blog, but we can look at how ambush attacks roll out and what we might be able to do to mitigate the damage. I want to look at some common themes that we see in most ambushes.

The first is the element of surprise. We rarely have the advantage of being able to contact our suspects at the time and place of our choosing. If you’ve ever been on a Bicycle Patrol Unit you know the feeling of turning into a blind alley and being faced with a group of fellas who didn’t expect to see five-o rolling up on a bicycle.  Most often you just caught them at their most vulnerable and least advantageous point.  The same applies to the officer. Often times a suspect can feign compliance and lure an officer into a false sense of security.  It’s at moments like this that we become vulnerable.

You may have seen the recent incident in Phoenix where nine officers were shot or injured in a call for service at a residence. As the first officer arrives ,the suspects tells him that a woman had been shot and was choking on her own blood. When the officer approaches the doorway to the residence the suspect opens fire. The suspect offered no pre-attack indicators as he stood there shirtless in the doorway smoking a cigarette. The officer had no indication that the suspect was holding a gun and the suspects demeanor was such that the officer had very little reason to believe that he posed a threat. The surprise of the attack was so fast that all the officer could do was retreat to cover and put out radio traffic.

The next factor concealment can be broken into 2 categories. Concealment of the assailant or concealment of a weapon. I wish I had a dollar for every time I went to find an individual at a known location and was told by somebody at the residence that the subject who I was looking for was not there. I often tell students that wolves travel in packs and that where there is one bad actor there is probably another nearby. Maintaining situational awareness or 360-degree security is paramount to our survivability on the street. While we don’t always have the option or necessity of a second officer on scene I always consider contact and cover to be the best option.

Watch the hands! The ten percent area (the front of the waist to the small of the back) is where most weapons are secured. A DOJ study found that 90% of the weapons found on suspects was found in this ten percent area. Suspects digging in their pockets or refusing to remove their hands from their pockets should be scrutinized. Since most people are right-handed, I always taught students to start scanning suspects at their right hand, moving quickly to the left hand and finally the face, rinse and repeat often.  While the suspect’s face can’t really hurt anything but your feelings it can give you an impression of a suspect’s intentions.  I know the old “Ask, Tell, Make” model is no longer in vogue in modern law enforcement DT classes, however a simple “touchless touch” compliance check can indicate to officers that the suspect has bad intentions toward them.

The next factor is the suddenness of the attack. Years ago, I was detailed to our agency’s critical incident team.  Like any other agency the team was tasked with investigating use of force incidents and reporting the findings to the Chief. One of the most reported phenomena among the officers who were forced to use force was that they almost always said “It happened so fast.” Taking control of a situation and placing suspects in a position of disadvantage as quickly as possible is an important tactic to remember.  If a suspect exits his vehicle without being told to do so he is either posturing for an encounter, looking to run or wants to separate himself from something in the vehicle. By quickly taking control of the suspect, we can disrupt his OODA loop cancelling his plans before he has time to act on them. Speed Surprise and Violence of Action are staples to our survivability in dynamic situations.

If you have seen the scenario “Nightmare Alley” on the VirTra system, you’ve seen a classic ambush situation. This scenario is based off an actual encounter. As the contact officer begins to control the suspect to make the arrest, a white SUV approaches from down the alley. While the tendency for some students is to get target fixated on the suspect as he struggles with the officer it is important to maintain 360-degree security. Depending on where the student has positioned himself inside the simulated environment, he can quickly pick up the threat coming from the SUV. Without giving up the scenario too much, instructors need to know that the suspect in that actual encounter had large amounts of narcotics on board and it did take several rounds to stop the threat.

If you have any ideas for scenarios that you would like to see developed or are interested in custom content specific to your AOR please feel free to reach out to any of our Law Enforcement SMEs on the training and curriculum team at VirTra. Stay safe and keep your head on a swivel.

Written by: Mike Clark, VirTra Law Enforcement Subject Matter Expert

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