Police officers often put themselves into potentially deadly situations
A firearm simulator allows officers to experience situations which may — or may not — require the use of deadly force. Afterwards, they can rewind the test and see how they performed.
We watched at a recent training session as Pecatonica Police Officer Greg Spencer, in the simulation, rolled up on the scene of a disturbance at a local apartment complex.
There, he is confronted by a man armed with a knife. The computer responds to Spencer’s verbal commands, and he is able to talk the virtual suspect into putting down the knife.
The scenario is fake, on a projected screen, but Spencer says that doesn’t make it any less tense than a real life version.
“It felt very real, because of the fact that we are by ourselves out here in the smaller communities,” Spencer said. “We have to make sure to take care of the situation as effectively as possible with the levels of force that we have to work with.”
The simulator’s scenarios can be as simple as an argument, or as serious as chasing a possibly armed suspect.
The simulations unfold quickly, replicating the split second decisions officers must make in real life.
“Experience is everything,” said the Winnebago Police Department’s Training Officer, Alan Nylund. “A less experienced officer will go out and, a lot of times, they don’t have a lot of the scenarios, a lot of the situations, under their belt, on how to handle it. So, this gives them a way of doing it without actually having to field the real call.”
The Village of Winnebago is one of three departments involved in the joint training, along with officers from Pecatonica and Durand.
“We’re the only three small departments in the west end of the county. We continually, constantly back each other up,” Nylund said.
Durand’s Police Chief Jeff Schelling, coordinated the training with his counterparts at those other agencies.
“We really need to connect,” Schelling said. “We need to connect in every facet that we can, to include in our training.”
Chief Schelling spent 24 years with the Rockford Police before working in rural Winnebago County. He says that, while some of the scenarios officers encounter in the simulator are rare, they can happen anywhere.
“For rural, small rural departments, it’s just as important for us to train for these things as it is for a county sheriff, [or] the City of Rockford,” Schelling said. “You’ve got to be cognizant of what’s going on, and much more on top of your game, so-to-speak, when you’re out here by yourself.”
The simulator comes from the Northern Illinois Training Advisory Board, which allows member agencies to use the equipment, to keep their skills sharp.