top! Stop! Stop! Police!”
Seymour Police Officer Keith Williams shouted as a computer-generated image of a man on a projector screen ran from him. Williams was looking for a peeping Tom who had been looking through windows of homes in a neighborhood.
Similar to an action video game, 41-year-old Williams chased the suspect before reaching for the simulated stun gun attached to his holster.
Williams continued to shout for the man to halt as he rounded the side of a brick wall.
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In less than a couple of seconds, the situation escalated.
Bang! Bang! Bang!
The suspect, who previously didn’t display a weapon, now had a gun and shot at Williams three times.
With no time to react, Williams’ animated scenario quickly came to an end.
“My adrenaline is up,” he said after he finished a series of computerized shooting simulations.
Police Chief Bill Abbott said this week’s training was the first time the department has rented that particular equipment in about 10 years. That’s because the system, which comes from Bloomington, costs about $2,700 per week to rent.
All 39 officers in the department went through at least six scenarios. Some also worked in teams to practice SWAT or patrol scenarios using backup.
Abbott said the training was not due to the recent issues with police actions in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York. He scheduled it months ago mostly because it’s too cold to effectively train outside this time of year.
That potential real-life scenario is one of many Williams went through Wednesday morning using a firearms training system, set up in the conference room at Seymour Police Department.
Some of the other high-stress decisions trainees have to make include one involving a knife-wielding woman attacking another person at a gas station, a man holding a gun to his head who suddenly decides to turn the gun on the trainee, and a highly intoxicated man who abruptly decides to use his fingers to look like a gun. In that scenario, the man said he had a gun and was going to shoot.
“There are so many things that are running through your head, especially when (the person) runs out at you,” said Williams, who also is a school resource officer. “What do you do? You don’t know if he has a weapon. You don’t know if he’s just going to go to the ground. You have no clue what he’s going to do. You have to make those split-second decisions.”
Similar to life on the job, Williams was given a gun and a rifle to use. But instead of bullets, the weapons were electronic and projected a red laser onto the screen. He also had access to a stun gun and a flashlight and used protection or a barrier made from tables turned upside down.
Sitting behind Williams, the three firearms instructors from the department oversaw the drills, controlling the outcomes of the situations and guiding the program using laptops.
The chief said he sees the computerized shooting simulations as a way to practice quick decision-making and to step back and justify actions. Also, by choosing similar scenarios for each officer to complete, it sets a kind of baseline criterion for all to meet.
“It’s a test kind of — to figure out what’s a lethal threat and what’s not,” Abbott said.
For firearms instructor Chadd Rogers, the training is a chance to continuously learn.
“It’s good interaction. It shows you a stressful situation and how quickly things can turn bad,” said Rogers, a 15-year veteran on the force.
After a session ends, officers can watch a replay to see exactly when gunfire occurred, who shot first and where the bullets hit.
Rogers can manipulate each scene during a session and decide how far the criminal on the screen will go. He said he bases it on how well the officer gives initial oral commands.
“If they are giving good commands, we will de-escalate it,” he said. “If they’re not giving the commands we want, we may escalate the force.”
Afterward, they give tips and advice and discuss what happened.
Though Williams was “shot” during a few of his scenarios, he ultimately stopped a number of others from committing further crimes — not just with the weapons but verbally.
“Drop the weapon! Let me see your hands! Get on the ground!” Williams said to a simulated woman, who complied with those commands.
He said the training is necessary to have the body and mind working together to instantly react as situations arise.
“We don’t run around having to shoot somebody every day. That’s a good thing. We don’t want to have to that,” Williams said. “But for us to be able to visualize rather than think about it, it helps prepare us.”
“There are so many things that are running through your head, especially when he runs out at you. What do you do? You don’t know if he has a weapon. You don’t know if he’s just going to go to the ground. You have no clue what he’s going to do. You have to make those split-second decisions.”
Keith Williams, Seymour police officer, on virtual reality training programs
“It’s good interaction. It shows you a stressful situation and how quickly things can turn bad.”
Chadd Rogers, Seymour police officer, on computer simulation training