When Sgt. David Dess assumed command of the training program for the Garden City Police Department in Georgia, he sought a solution that would provide greater flexibility and realism than traditional range time and marksmanship drills.
“Our yearly training consisted of going out to the range, doing our annual certification, and then having range days where the officers could practice,” he explained.
Dess and agency commanders believed that this static training with flat silhouette targets was insufficient to prepare officers for the dynamic scenarios they confront on a daily basis in the field. The agency has implemented scenario-based training utilizing simulation rounds, but these efforts were time- and resource-intensive, and the simulation rounds posed a danger of harm to police.
Dess and the department selected VirTra simulation training for its lifelike settings with actors projected onto one or more screens for a more engaging experience.
“In these shoot/don’t shoot circumstances, there is no silhouette,” he stated. “There is a real person on the video in front of you, therefore you must identify what it is. You are not staring at a piece of paper, but rather a person. So, how must we reply to this individual? “Is this individual a menace to us?”
Dess explains that this complexity serves a crucial role in training officers for circumstances that develop swiftly and need swift analysis and decision-making. This is highly useful, he says, especially in a time when police are under increased scrutiny countrywide and must swiftly determine whether an object in a person’s palm is a phone or a weapon.
“The police must decide in a split second if this poses a lethal threat to me,” he added. “Therefore, having digital programs where we could regularly train our officers in shoot-or-don’t-shoot situations and less-lethal choices helps them develop the mentality, ‘Okay, I need to assess the danger’ Is this a fatal danger against me, and how will I respond? Because a timely judgment is necessary.”
Training With Realism And Flexibility
Not only did Dess and the Garden City PD want to teach their officers to utilize the kind of circumstances they see on a regular basis, but they also wanted to give training anytime cops were available. Officers have access to the VirTra V-100 simulator, which is installed in a dedicated room within the station, at all times.
“If they have a break in their shift and want to go to the office and use the simulator, they are free to do so,” he added. They are not required to wait for a planned training evolution.
In January, the Garden city police department adopted a VirTra V-100 single-screen simulator. Officers, particularly new recruits, may hone and refresh their de-escalation abilities through situations that mimic typical requests for assistance, such as domestic violence or a mental health crisis.
Dess stated, “It is tough to plan this type of instruction on a consistent basis.” “With this simulator, we can bring officers in at the start of their training and have them run through the scenario so they can see what they may or may not encounter on the street.”
Making The Difference
He adds that the agency has already enjoyed tangible advantages, such as helping officers prepare for and pass a new state-mandated marksmanship training.
GCPD was able to reproduce the new Georgia Pistol Qualification Course on the simulator with the assistance of VirTra in order to give more practice time for both seasoned officers and new recruits. The next day, two cadets who had been struggling passed the qualifying examination after two hours of simulator practice.
“Actual live range time is not always accessible, and we don’t want them to be shooting this new course for the first time when they’re attempting to qualify,” said Dess. “Had it not been for the VirTra system, our officers who were cadets in the academy at the time may not have graduated.”
The decision-making and de-escalation abilities that officers have acquired from simulation training have also proven useful on the battlefield. Although Dess agrees that it is unrealistic to train for every possible scenario, he reports that scenario-based training enabled cops to end a carjacking attempt without catastrophic harm.
“The suspect was brought into custody and given the necessary treatment since he was experiencing a mental crisis,” Dess explained. “When we use the VirTra system, mental crisis calls are embedded in, so the cops knew this person was experiencing a mental crisis. They de-escalated the situation by backing away and attempting to get him out of the truck without resorting to lethal force.
Avoiding ‘Training Scars’
It is a well-held belief in sports that you perform as you have trained. This indicates that doing an action improperly during practice might result in subpar performance during a game. The same holds true for training, and badly conceived and carried out training frequently results in more harm than good.
Dess explains that the realism and adaptability of the VirTra training platform prevent police from developing harmful habits. Multiple branches for each scenario in the curriculum, which the instructor can modify based on the trainees’ replies, generate unpredictable results that keep students on their toes.
He stated, “It’s not a cookie-cutter solution.” “When they come back and view the image on the screen, they realize that they’ve already completed the scenario. I know what will transpire. No, you don’t. Because it was modifiable. There are a variety of possibilities available to us.”
Dess also states that the scenarios test various degrees of confrontation in order to provide cops with de-escalation training.
“I think it’s advantageous for officers that we don’t always conduct shoot/no-shoot scenarios,” he stated. “They have the opportunity and discretion to choose a less-lethal alternative if one is available, and the VirTra software detects and responds properly if they do so.”
The GCPD uses imitation firearms, including Glocks, rifles, tasers, and pepper spray, in its training so that officers may have a feel for them. Dess deems the laser-tracking VirTra simulation guns impressive.
“If you wanted, you could literally write your name on the screen when we deploy the OC. It’s recording the laser you’re projecting onto the screen,” he explained. “Obviously, you cannot see it, but when you deploy it from the gadget, the camera detects it and displays it on the screen.”
Additionally, they are capable of simulating flashlights with varying intensity to replicate the range of lights carried by separate cops.
The fact that the VirTra sim guns are wireless, allowing cops to move freely, is an often-overlooked but crucial aspect of realism that Dess particularly values.
“Many systems demand that your weapon system be linked with the CO2 wire,” he explained. “The VirTra system is cordless, with the cartridges being charged at the loading station. This allows for reloads, and it functions identically to a genuine Glock. The simulated recoil is as near as possible to firing a real Glock.”
According to him, flexibility allows cops to do their duties on the field.
“If you become involved with a danger, we don’t want police to think, ‘I’m tied here because I’m attached,'” he added. No, we want you to relocate and take cover behind anything that will keep you safe, and the technology allows us to do so.
Better Preparing Officers
The VirTra simulation training system has added realism and variety to the Garden City PD’s training program, making a difference every day. Through rigorous training with realistic but inactive weapons and human actors whose responses might change with each encounter, trainees and officers develop muscle memory and critical thinking abilities for improved decision-making in the heat of battle.
Dess stated, “The more effectively we teach our cops, particularly in the current context, the safer our communities will be.” We must ensure that our personnel is prepared to respond to virtually any type of crisis at any moment, but it’s tough to train for every possible scenario.
He explains that a virtual training system allows you to construct your own crises. If a specific difficulty arises or if the department wants to anticipate an upcoming trend, they can develop the scenario on VirTra to better prepare.
Dess stated, “We want to ensure that every officer has all the necessary equipment, which we do — they have the car and the pistol.” “However, we cannot always prepare children for the challenges they will confront on the street. Therefore, the ability to accomplish this on a virtual platform will be advantageous to our agency.”