Public Safety & Homeland Security

Simulator Sharpens Officer's Decision Making

All is done with a video projected onto a large, two-dimensional screen.

by Brian Early, Foster's Daily Democrat, Dover, N.H. / January 6, 2017

(TNS) - The car doors open and two men exit with guns and raise them towards you.

One has a rifle and fires towards a Rollinsford police officer, who quickly jumps out of the way. Her partner, Officer Benjamin Philbrook, takes out both men with six simulated bullets in about two seconds, eliminating the immediate threat.

After calling for EMS and backup forces, Philbrook and the other officer discuss their decision making in the scenario with Lee Police's field training officer Todd Biery and Primex training consultants Bob Barry and Phil St. Cyr. Primex, also known as New Hampshire Public Risk Management Exchange, is an insurance agency for municipal, schools and county government the state. Primex held the training for police officers of Lee, Barrington and Rollinsford this week at the Lee Safety Complex. Primex has trained 1,600 officers in the past four years with their simulated programs.

"We provide the program in order to give law enforcement an opportunity to engage in training that may reduce the risk of liability claims," said Barry, a former 25-year member of the Concord, N.H., Police Department who retired as chief in 2011.

Not all the scenarios involve weapons. In fact, the situation where the men exited the car with guns was the third similar simulation. In the first, the passenger ran from the vehicle into a nearby cornfield while the driver stayed put. The next scenario, the passenger ran from the vehicle and into the cornfield with an AK-47. The goal is to allow the officers to make "critical decisions in a safe environment," Barry said. "Nobody gets hurt. They can make mistakes and learn from it."

All is done with a video projected onto a large, two-dimensional screen. When shots are fired, the screen detects where the simulated bullet landed. Barry sits with a headset on acting as the radio dispatcher. Depending on the simulation, he can play a sort of choose-your-own-adventure role. Depending on how the officers react to a certain situation, Barry can change the simulation ending.

For example, in one simulation at a junkyard, officers, working in teams of two, check on a bus with an unwanted person on it. The person on the bus is yelling at the officer to go away, saying that it is his property. In both situations, the man comes off the bus holding a cane. In one simulation, the man tried to get back on the bus, and the officer Tased him. In another situation with two different officers, the man put his cane down and submitted to police detention.

After each scenario, the officers are questioned about their actions and are asked why they acted one way or another. If an officer does use force, the trainers press the officers to justify it through the state statute of use of deadly force.

In one scenario, Lee Officer Michael McNeil and Rollinsford Officer William Hancock respond to a call of an active shooter at a school. Armed with rifles that departments use (but retrofitted to simulate gunfire without bullets), the men move down a hallway. They encounter a man by a door with his back to the officers, which the officers command him to turn around. He does quickly, but he also has something in his hand. The officers have to quickly determine if they are in harm's way. They hold their fire; it's just a cell phone.

In another active shooter drill, the same officers move through a school following an on-screen officer as frantic students run in the opposite direction. They enter into the cafeteria with bodies, presumably dead, on the ground. One man jumps from behind a table holding onto a female student and pointing a gun at her head. After yelling to put down the gun, Hancock fires, hitting the man in the head. The victim runs to safety.

During the debriefing, Hancock justifies his actions with a hostage so close. He states that seeing the dead bodies makes him believe there is no negotiation. He will shoot the hostage. Barry confirms that 11 seconds later, the girl would have been shot.

"You can sit in your cruiser and think about (different situations)," Hancock said. The simulated training "helps you to visualize it."

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©2017 the Foster's Daily Democrat (Dover, N.H.)

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