Florida Deputies Train for Killers with VR Technology

VirTra is a five-screen, 300-degree simulator that creates scenarios where Volusia County, Fla., deputies can sharpen skills handling active shooters, negotiations in standoffs, and more high-stress incidents.

by Patricio G. Balona, The News-Journal / October 24, 2019

(TNS) — The two-second electric zap in the lower back meant the virtual active school shooter had wounded me.

So, with heightened alert, and adrenaline flowing, I approached the next computer-generated section of the school searching for the killer, and as the armed suspect peeked from behind the woman he held hostage, I fired, taking him down.

That was the virtual-reality scenario that played out at a media session the Volusia County, Fla., Sheriff's Office hosted on Wednesday to publicly unveil the agency's newest training technology

Sheriff Mike Chitwood invited reporters to try out the computerized training machine, VirTra, giving them a first-hand understanding of how the training will prepare deputies for the worst-case scenario.

VirTra is a five-screen, 300-degree simulator that creates hundreds of scenarios where Volusia deputies will sharpen their skills handling active shooter situations, negotiations in standoffs, ambushes, de-escalation scenarios, even incidents involving terrorism and other high-stress incidents.

"The purpose of this system is to get as real life as possible to the scenario the deputies, school guardians and school resource officers are going to run into in the street," Chitwood said.

The simulator cost $181,000 and was acquired with a $125,000 grant from the state with the balance paid with seized drug money, Chitwood said.

The five-screen simulator set up in a room at the Stephen Saboda Training Center on Indian Lake Road teaches law enforcement officers that not every incident they respond to ends in a shooting.

Chitwood demonstrated a scenario that ended well. The situation, generated by the simulator, involved a man threatening to throw a baby off an overpass. The sheriff talked the man into safely putting down the baby and into surrendering.

"Every scenario doesn't end with law enforcement killing somebody," Chitwood said. "There could be a scenario where you use your Taser, where you have to use your mace, where you just use your officer presence and your verbal skills to de-escalate certain scenarios."

Besides making deputies' jobs safer as they protect the community, VirTra is cost-effective, saving taxpayers money as less funds will be used to train deputies, Chitwood said.

"To train an agency our size, to bring in 14 or 15 roll players, which we do, to use ammunition rounds, to use Taser rounds, to use mace in the training, is extremely expensive," Chitwood said. "In the hour-and-a-half that a deputy would go through real-life hands-on with actors, we can put 10 through on that machine."

Chitwood said his agency started working on acquiring the technology after the Parkland high school massacre in 2018, as part of improving the readiness of deputies as first responders.

"We believe, it's not only really cost-effective, but you went through it, it's real life, it's intense and that's the kind of training we want to give our deputies and our guardians."

©2019 The News-Journal, Daytona Beach, Fla. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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