The Omaha Police Department (OPD) has been a VirTra believer for years. In 2014 the department used a local police foundation grant to replace their old firearms training system with a VirTra V-180 use of force simulator, and the reaction was immediate and overwhelmingly positive. OPD Officer Matthew Austin feels that the immersive aspect of VirTra systems had distinct advantages over their previous training simulator, so much so that OPD command and the Omaha City Council readily approved department funds to purchase a VirTra V-300 judgmental use of force simulator in March 2017. Officer Austin said “we had nine pages of awesome feedback from officers” about the V-180 training content, which made the department’s decision to upgrade to a VirTra V-300 that much easier. “The ability to move around, the realism, and the branching options are key. VirTra really immerses you in in the situation,” Austin says.
VirTra Training Scenarios
These qualities are especially instructive in training new OPD cadets in particular. Austin likes that OPD trainers can “keep trainees on their toes” with the myriad branching options found in VirTra scenarios that take trainees in different directions based on the decisions they make as the scenario advances. He has taken this a step further in OPD cadet training by making a scenario in the VirTra V-300 a key part of their training curriculum, establishing a graded score for a VirTra V-300 scenario that takes into account 13 opportunities that cadets can have within the scenario to use tactics and techniques learned during the previous weeks of training to achieve safe, positive outcomes. “We’ve given them everything they need to be successful,” says Austin, and it’s up to the cadets to demonstrate that they’ve absorbed what instructors have taught them about appropriate use of force and de-escalation.
Cadets can achieve better scores by using appropriate verbal commands and demonstrating proper threat recognition initially. Communicating with a subject and not being goaded into a physical confrontation can be a positive learning opportunity for cadets. Depending on how the scenario branches, accurate shot placement or calling for backup at the proper time can also be judged. Appropriate use of force and recognizing opportunities for de-escalation are also taken into account in the scoring. Austin says “there are a lot of scenarios on the VirTra system that allow for us practicing de-escalation. If you do these things successfully, you don’t have to use force – you can just talk a subject through the situation.”
OPD training efficiencies have also been increased thanks to the V-300. Unlike other forms of simulated use of force training that can require the entire OPD training staff’s participation, a session on their V-300 requires only one or two officers. This has freed up training staff and reduced the use of other department resources. OPD has made things even easier by certifying other instructors (use of force, firearms and Axon® TASER® instructors) besides regular OPD training staff to train on the V-300. This allows OPD to schedule and train more officers during their shifts, thus reducing the use of overtime or personal time to complete required training. Instructors can operate the V-300 and train officers during their shifts, and OPD was recently able to rotate 22 officers in and out of training on an overnight shift with none of the downtime associated with other types of firearms training such as range time.
The VirTra V-300
The VirTra V-300 that OPD purchased is also equipped with V-Author, and Austin is particularly excited about building custom scenarios using V-Author to make the training even more realistic. V-Author will allow OPD to train their officers with custom, content-specific assets geared towards their training objectives. Austin sees OPD loading photos and video of a high-risk drug house that has been the scene of several incidents in the past. OPD can then develop custom VirTra scenarios that will enable their SWAT team to be better prepared for potential incidents at that location in the future.
Like any other law enforcement agency, OPD trains its officers to defuse situations that can endanger themselves and the community, and VirTra technology has helped OPD reduce its use of force incidents over the last several years. Ultimately, Austin considers their V-300 to be a “decision-making simulator” that shows OPD officers and trainees where they need to go to stay safe, and he looks forward to even more immersive scenarios from VirTra that help them make better decisions in life-threatening situations.