You’re on foot patrol with your partner when you see a subject that you’ve had interactions with before. The two of you decide to speak to the subject, and proceed to walk down the alley to see what he is up to.

As you approach him, he decides to be uncooperative. He doesn’t want to talk to you, he starts to flail his arms and become more aggressive. As your partner attempts to arrest the subject, a white pickup truck suddenly pulls up on the street behind you. The driver immediately gets out and starts shooting, striking the subject and your partner. Your only option is to get off the ‘X’ and return fire in an attempt to stop this subject.

You fire your handgun, and immediately stop the threat. The simulator screens around you tell you to make your weapons safe and to prepare for a debrief. Congratulations, you just completed the “Nightmare Alley” scenario in the VirTra simulator.

The scenario sounded a bit far-fetched, didn’t it? What are the chances that while you’re out checking on a subject, some random guy is going to pull up and just start shooting at you? That wouldn’t really happen…would it?

As a matter of fact, that scenario DID happen, which is how it became a training event for the VirTra simulator. That brings us to the point of this article: How realistic is your training?
When you’re putting officers through scenario training, how much time do you put into the development of the event? What are you basing the scenarios on?

With the amount of body cam footage that is easily available, you should have no problem creating scenarios based on real-life incidents. Many of the high-profile incidents are routinely debriefed by training experts, so a lot of the legwork for you lesson plan is already done for you. The bonus of creating scenarios based on incidents that actually happened is that when a student decides to wise-off and shout “This would never happen!” It’s always a great feeling pulling out the “This Actually Happened” card.

When taking an actual incident and making it into a training scenario, it’s tempting to just copy it and call it “done.” What we do at VirTra – and what we suggest other trainers do – is first decide what the training goal is. Once that’s done, alter the scenario enough that it’s not easily recognizable by the trainees and that you’ll be able to have multiple ways to run the same scenario, but with different options based on how the trainee handles the incident.

Finally, using real incidents to create your training scenarios will give you and your agency a lot of validation on the training that it’s doing. Training to the actual situations officers are facing makes it a lot easier to justify that training.

Stay Safe. Stay Dedicated.

This article was written by TJ Alioto, VirTra Law Enforcement Subject Matter Expert

VirTra’s mission is to provide law enforcement and military with the most effective, realistic training possible for maximum skill transfer and increased safety. This is done by providing powerful firearms simulators, a majority of which have multiple screens to increase the immersion and teach trainees to put their head on a swivel.

Unfortunately, the recent hype surrounding virtual reality goggles has infatuated important decision-makers, who have become distracted with the new technology and disregard the disservice its teaching provides law enforcement.

Instead of falling victim to this exciting-but-lacking technology, VirTra is sticking with high-fidelity, scientifically-proven training simulators. Recently, VirTra’s CEO Bob Ferris and the Director of Training & Curriculum Lon Bartel wrote a whitepaper discussing how screen-based training beats VR-based training in nearly every category:

VirTra prioritizes training quality—from each scenario’s realistic branching options to marksmanship backed by independent third parties who verify ballistic calculation. Even the smallest nuances can break the training immersion, potentially causing training scars. Russ Read, a Washington Examiner reported, tried VR training and quickly noted its faults. “The red dot sight didn’t operate like the real thing—you had to line up the red dot with the front sight to shoot accurately. Additionally, reloading the magazine was an awkward, clunky experience.”

When shopping for technology, consumers are well aware of the variations that exist between companies. Considerations for clarity, size and features are given and analyzed, often weighed between the store brand and name brand. So why would agencies not provide the same research and consideration for their training departments?

Instead of a cheaper ‘store brand’ training solution—such as VR’s fake weapons and non-convincing reality—VirTra’s higher quality of training provides officers and warfighters the opportunity to use their personal firearms equipped with recoil kits inside a state-of-the-art environment. These simulators feature scenarios filmed in 4K and are compatible with a variety of accessories, allowing skills learned in training to transfer to the real world.

Refrain from following fleeting trends. Do your research and ensure the training budget is spent on the most effective use-of-force training system possible.

Are you familiar with the phrase “do as I say, not as I do?”

While this phrase may be heard among parents raising children, it should not be used in officer training. It is well known that teaching by example is one of the most powerful forms of training, not hypocrisy among one’s own instruction. After all, instruction that does not reflect one’s action can cause confusion—something you don’t want among those sworn to protect our communities.

Training must be as realistic as possible for skill building, skill transfer to the field and maximum safety of our officers and nation.

Realistic Officer Training

More than training by example, the principle of realistic training also encompasses training tools and accessories. If you were to perform a Google search for law enforcement training, you would receive a medley of training options on the market: simulation, virtual reality (VR), Force-on-Force, various classroom instruction and so forth.

Having a variety of training selections—especially with different price ranges, sizes and department customization options—is beneficial. But which of these options are actually cost-effective and realistic, and how does your department determine this?

The biggest indicator of a training option’s realism is how it compares to life in the field. As such, officers must be equipped with all of the accessories they normally have on their belt, must be immersed physically and psychologically, experience stress and practice engaging in challenging situations.

Finding the Best Training Option

While simplified, the list creates categories for departments to compare each training option against. For example: Does it allow officers to train utilizing the entire toolbelt? Does it immerse officers physically and psychologically? Does it cause stress by portraying challenging situations? Fortunately, VirTra’s judgmental use of force and de-escalation simulations allow departments to check “yes” next to each question.

How about VR? This one is a bit more difficult, as it depends on the specific VR product, what accessories each individual company produces, etc. Some companies have tethered accessories and/or produce video game-like visuals. Both of these make achieving physical and psychological fidelity difficult to achieve, meaning learning is less likely to occur.

As an instructor, it is your job to ensure officers are provided the most realistic training possible. When searching for a new training option, decide the most critical components needed in training before checking out companies. After, compare each company’s products to your list of needs. If possible, find a way to test their training scenarios for yourself and see if it initiates appropriate levels of body alarm response in yourself and your cadre.

If you would be interested in learning more about VirTra, or participating in a demonstration, contact a representative.