FRENCH CAMP — The San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office now has a state-of–the-art virtual force option training system to help deputies better prepare for split-second decisions in the field.
The Sheriff’s Office on Friday unveiled its new VirTra simulation system, which features more than 400 real-life training scenarios, including patrol, special weapons and tactics and corrections situations, among others.
The new $67,000 system replaces the department’s current system, which is more than 30 years old.
San Joaquin County Sheriff Steve Moore said the system is a training device, not a video game or other form of entertainment.
He said it is a tool designed to train people to make the best possible decisions in split second situations.
“What this tool does is teaches you how to think and then employ that use of force,” he said. “This tool gives us not just the firearms, it allows us to use all the continuum use of force: chemical agents, TASERs®, firearms. So it allows us to use our brains when engaging a situation to make a determination which level of force is necessary to be used.”
Components of the system include a laptop, software, speakers for audio, a projector and large screen. Trainees are equipped with laser-activated weapons, including pistols, rifles, shotguns, stun guns and pepper spray.
The department’s range master controls the program by initiating thousands of options based on a trainee’s verbal commands.
There are about 2,000 different options an officer and the rangemaster can take during the 400 scenarios available, including the use of stun guns, lethal force or batons, among others.
The system is not confined to the training facilities at the Sheriff’s Office, either. Moore said he plans to take the system into the community and let residents see what kinds of training his deputies undertake.
He said the system will be presented to residents at community centers, as well as at major events such as National Night Out.
“We want the community to learn what we have to work with, and the situations that we enter into,” he said. “At the same time, we want to have feedback from the community, as to their perceptions of what they see in the training so we can learn from them and what their point of view of the situations are.”
Just as each deputy must pass weapons training throughout the year, he or she will also be required to pass simulation training. Moore said each deputy will train on the simulator on a quarterly basis, or four times a year, minimum.
While police departments in San Joaquin and neighboring counties have similar virtual training systems, Sgt. Joe Petrino said the Sheriff’s Office is the only agency in the region to employ the portable VirTra system.
He said the department liked the amount of scenarios available for training, and the amount of options that can be employed during a training session.
As an example, a scenario might have deputies pulling over a driver who ran a red light, but when they approach the vehicle, the driver jumps out and takes one of the deputies hostage.
A trainee must make split-second decisions to defuse the situation and force the suspect to surrender.
Another scenario could have trainees as bailiffs during the trial of a violent drug lord. During the hearing, the defendant could jump from the table and attack a witness with a pencil, and the trainee must act quickly to stop the chaos.
“The point is to expose or engage officers in as many scenarios as we can,” Petrino said. “This is not a video game. This is a training tool for at-heart decisions.”
Contact reporter Wes Bowers at (209) 546-8258 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at recordnet.com/bowersblog and on Twitter @WBowersTSR.