Officers train in firearms simulator
A routine traffic stop put Quincy Officer Alex Bushy to the test last week.
The agitated man who emerged from the car held a gun to his own head and warned Bushy not to come any closer.
“Sir, you do not want to do this,” Bushy said, crouched down and gun drawn in the simulated training exercise. “Let us work through this.”
When the man warned that he would shoot himself if Bushy made any moves, the officer called out that he only stopped the man for a traffic violation.
“I’m going to stay right here,” said Bushy, his voice stern and unwavering.
After a few tense moments – about 40 seconds – the man tossed the gun to the side and put his hands in the air. Bushy was able to defuse the potentially deadly situation in less than a minute.
“It’s the kind of thing where you have to plan for the worst and hope for the best,” said Ron Huxtable of Clear Risk Solutions, a risk management and insurance consultant.
Bushy and his fellow officers at the Quincy Police Department spent time last week in Clear Risk Solution’s firearms simulator. The mobile simulator – housed in a 35-foot travel trailer – was in town for three days for a hands-on training exercise.
The Ephrata business offers up its simulator to law enforcement clients as well as school districts. The company also has a similar defensive driving simulator.
Using a video system, the firearms simulator presents a variety of use-of-force scenarios to the officers. Officers must decide how best to respond and, in some cases, which weapon is best for the situation.
The majority of what officers do is “reactionary,” said Huxtable, who debriefs the officers after every scenario and asks them to articulate their decisions and reactions. The training simulator can help officers get out of that reactionary mode, he added.
At one end of the trailer is a large video screen that officers stand before. Behind them is a computer system that someone like Huxtable operates. The computer system has some 500 scenarios – not all of them shooting scenarios – that can have different outcomes. The electronics alone cost about $56,000; the driving simulator’s electronics cost more than $100,000.
The scenarios are meant to create some stress for the officers. Many of the subjects they encounter are cussing or yelling. They are confrontational, agitated or even incoherent. Some are hiding their hands or reaching for hidden objects.
In last week’s training, officers faced five scenarios. In one, they approached a potential homicide suspect on the street. In another, they went into a dark warehouse on a potential burglary call when a man popped up from behind a counter. In another, they responded to the call of a mentally unstable man holding a knife.
The scenarios may start out as a potentially lethal encounter and then de-escalate, said Huxtable, who previously worked more than 23 years in Grant County with the Washington State Patrol. Or, it may appear seemingly harmless and then ramp up. All were under two minutes long.
In the trailer, officers are given a Glock pistol and a taser gun. Both have been repurposed, making them suitable for the simulator. The pistol, for example, doesn’t shoot bullets but a blast of air when fired. The computer system also is able to track marksmanship, or whether officers hit their targets.
The firearms simulator offers a training experience that officers can’t get on a shooting range, said Huxtable, who spent part of his career as a training officer.
“It’s a lot different than standing on a line, poking holes in paper,” he said.
It’s a dynamic training experience that’s also safe, Quincy Police Chief Bob Heimbach said.
“We all make mistakes in these things,” Heimbach said. “And nothing bad happens from it.”
Running through the scenarios reminded him how quickly a situation can change, Bushy said. The training scenarios offer an opportunity to decide how best to react before he’s faced with similar decisions on the streets of Quincy, he said.
And that’s just what Heimbach wants for his officers.
He isn’t expecting perfection in the simulator, Heimbach said. But he’s looking for his officers to show de-escalation and decision-making skills. He wants to see how they are communicating in high stress situations. Are they remaining aware of their surroundings? Are they using defensive tactics? Are they engaging in a dialogue with the person on the screen?
Heimbach is even hoping that by putting the officers in front of the simulator that training will “imprint” on them so they have something to fall back on if they ever find themselves in a similar, but real-life, situation, he said.
“Half of firearms training is (about) not shooting people,” he said.
— By Jill FitzSimmons, firstname.lastname@example.org