Simulators - Law enforcement training solutions

Jul 15, 2014

The current generation of simulator is a technological marvel – putting lone officers or groups into a selection of the hundreds of realistic, interactive, video-based scenarios created to confront a range of threats with a variety of resource options. Training systems can be packed into one travel case for delivery to remote locations, and set up in a matter of minutes for training or qualifying.

Simulator-based training systems, especially for law enforcement officers, are on the brink of taking a giant step into the future as enhanced computer power and better display graphics bring artificial environments even closer to the real thing.

As Peter Longstaff, president of Meggitt Training Systems explains it, “Until now, the scenarios that were used have all been video-based […] the next generation will be basically computer-generated imagery.” Current video scenarios, with actors ‘responding’ to officers’ commands, may have a hundred paths to choose from, but are limited in the number of situations it can present. Computer generated scenarios, on the other hand, will be much more moldable, enabling organizations to customize the program to their own training needs. “With computer generated imagery there is much more flexibility in terms of the scenarios that will become available, at much less cost,” Longstaff remarks as he details some of the nuances that are being created to improve the realism of training. “We are looking at things like gesture recognition, so in other words, how does an officer react? You can automatically feed that information into scenarios and affect the outcome.”

For his part, Vince Greiner, VP business development for TI Training Corp. agrees that the next big ‘wow’ factor for simulations based training is going to be in computer graphics. “As good as computer graphics are these days, it is still not there for interfacing with the officers in training. I need to see the fear in your eyes or the aggressiveness in your face – those avatars are not there yet,” he relates. “But they are soon going to be, and once that happens, that will be the next level of full interaction, where you can talk to the screen and they are going to react back to you in real time. It’s not there yet, but it is coming.”

Especially in firearms training, simulations have evolved over the past several decades from the basic operation of a weapon and marksmanship to the point where they are being used to teach and rehearse split-second decision-making in various situations. The key is to find effective means to train officers to use the correct judgment, suggests Longstaff. “Simulators can be a controlled environment, which allows that training to take place very effectively.”

Beyond training and maintaining the skills of individual officers, police departments can measure and compare performance over time, to refine training techniques. “Generally over the years I think it has been proven that simulation in the law enforcement world is a very effective training tool, and a testing tool as well,” Longstaff says.

The biggest push right now is to augment or supplement qualification training. Major customers in Canada have been comparing control groups, some training on simulators before live fire qualification, and other groups doing only live fire training. According to Greiner, “they are finding that the simulation is a good stepping stone for qualifying, so the biggest thing now is, can we qualify on the simulator?” That is a big question for police forces, and the answer can only come from their training sections. Simulation companies provide the tools, but it is up to the policing sector to find the most effective means to utilize the technologies, which is why feedback to the developers is so critical to enhancing innovation of simulation products.

What do police forces look for when selecting weapons training simulators? They measure factors like realism, cost and portability in their purchase decisions. “It is all of the above – plus 20 more,” says Longstaff. “The one thing we have to realize is that, obviously, budget is a huge concern, especially at the municipal level. And that is understandable, but I think when people look at the return on investment, it does work out.”

Affordability definitely comes into play, agrees Greiner. “Right now they look at ammunition costs but we remind them that it is not just their ammunition, it’s logistics. You have to get to the range, you have to pay people to run the range, you have to maintain the range, so there is all that involved with doing your training and firing your guns.”

The realism of today’s simulators, helps police officers improve myriad skills in a hands-on yet safe environment. In fact, such technologies are also being used to develop judgement skills under crisis. Led by young, tech-savvy firearms instructors, the new generation police officers are embracing and benefitting from simulations training.

Ken Pole is a FrontLine staff writer.
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