OSWEGO — An officer confronts a distraught father who is holding his baby near the railing of a bridge, threatening to throw the baby over the railing.
“I can help you, but I need you to step away from the bridge for me to be able to help you,” the officer says.
He keeps the father talking and eventually de-escalates the situation, getting the father to step away from the railing and set the baby down.
Thankfully it’s not real, just one of the scenarios the Oswego County Sheriff’s Office will be able to confront its deputies with once it purchases a state-of-the-art training simulator.
The sheriff’s office received a $115,270 grant from the federal Office of Community Oriented Policing Services to purchase a VirTra V-180 simulator.
Training simulators aren’t new in law enforcement or the military, but Undersheriff John Toomey said older simulators were single-screen setups that played unrealistic video scenarios that were fairly limited in their outcomes.
The V-180 simulator uses three interconnected screens, computers and audio equipment to create a more realistic, immersive training environment.
“You’re kind of put right into a scenario and the operator can adjust what happens,” Toomey said. “It’s putting the officer in the environment and seeing how he or she reacts and how they do.”
Niki Nelson, a VirTra spokeswoman, said the simulator has hundreds of customizable scenarios with dozens of possible outcomes.
“When you go through a scenario, it’s not just one or two resolutions,” she said. “It’s not just you shoot the bad guy or you don’t.”
In fact, most of the scenarios don’t involve lethal force and can be resolved successfully without using a firearm.
Nelson said officers could practice using de-escalation techniques, dealing with suicidal subjects and even interacting with individuals with autism.
They can train using simulated Tasers as well as real handguns and rifles converted to recoil using CO2. And the system’s sensors are accurate enough that police agencies can use the simulator for target practice.
Toomey said the sheriff’s office had occasionally used the state DEC’s VirTra simulator at its training academy in Richland, but it wasn’t available as often as the sheriff’s office would have liked.
The grant covers the installation of the simulator equipment as well as curriculum materials, a content library with hundreds of scenarios and kits for converting handguns and rifles for training.
Toomey said the sheriff’s office is exploring the possibility of using the simulator’s target practice function to cut back on the number of times deputies visit the shooting range.
That would help tamp down on the cost of 9mm ammunition, which has gotten more expensive and harder to find in recent years. Toomey said the sheriff’s office recently placed an order for $44,000 worth of ammunition for the coming year. Using the simulator for target practice would also make it easier to account for work schedules.
“It’s more efficient than having to get 10 guys to come in and go to the range and get three instructors there,” Toomey said.
When the sheriff’s office gets the simulator, hopefully by the summer, it plans to install it at the police training facility Cayuga Community College is building at its Fulton campus where officers and police academy recruits can use it.
The most valuable aspect of having a simulator, however, will be the ability for deputies to learn how to make better decisions in difficult situations and receive feedback from instructors.
“I think it’s invaluable training for our guys to be put into a full scenario and be able to critique what they do and how they do it,” Toomey said.
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