IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Police Use Tech to Train for Life-Threatening Situations

Police in the Pittsburgh area are investing in VirTra, a firearms simulator that creates real-world scenarios and allows officers to improve critical thinking, de-escalation and firearm skills.

(TNS) — Law enforcement agents sometimes have mere seconds to make decisions.

And often, those decisions might mean the difference between de-escalation or life-threatening danger, according to Allegheny County Sheriff Kevin Kraus.

That's why the sheriff's office and the Allegheny County Police Department are investing nearly a quarter of a million dollars in the VirTra, a firearms simulator that creates real-world scenarios and allows officers to improve their critical thinking, de-escalation, and firearm skills.

"This type of technology can train officers to effectively make decisions that can end situations peacefully, which is the goal," Sheriff Kraus said on Monday. "It also demonstrates how a situation can turn to where the officer's life or somebody else's life is in danger."

Law enforcement training officers demonstrated three different scenarios on the VirTra at the Allegheny County Police Academy in North Park — an active killer scenario, an active shooter scenario, and a mental health scenario.

In the active killer scenario, for example, the participant holds an unloaded gun in front of the three large screens and attempts to "shoot" at an on-screen aggressor running toward them.

The simulator will then replay the scene and show where the participant's shots landed, highlighting room for improvement.

The active shooting and mental health scenarios are both interactive, and the participants' demeanor toward the people on-screen determines the outcomes of the situations.

"This system, depending on what you do or don't do, there's a ton of different options here," Deputy Sheriff Maria Watts said. "It's hard, you don't know what [the simulator] is about to do — you're reacting."

Sheriff Kraus said that the sheriff's office purchased the simulator in 2019 through $100,000 grant.

Other grants and funds from the sheriff's office have been responsible for the upkeep since then, and county police will now fund the simulator's yearly maintenance as they use it to train their officers and new recruits, County Police Superintendent Christopher Kearns said.

"The officer is always faced with decisions — the most important decision to make is whether or not to use deadly force," said Supt. Kearns. "And this gives him some training and a chance to go through the scenarios."

Supt. Kearns said it could also raise concerns over recruits' decision-making skills or flag the need for more training.

"The trainers will work more with them," he said. "[But] ultimately, if [officers] can't handle the decision-making, this [job] isn't for them."

The goal, Sheriff Kraus said, is to make the simulator available for all law enforcement officers in the county. "The training is extraordinary and it's useful throughout the county," he said.

© 2024 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.