Simulation Technologies & Training for Law Enforcement

A Force Multiplier for Public Safety

The realities of modern frontline policing – from increasingly broad and demanding operational mandates and changing environmental constraints, to the constant pressure of real-time public scrutiny – have never been more challenging.

Traditional crime prevention and response have long been coupled with the requirements of community-oriented public safety, counter-terrorism measures. Lately that has further included the implications of social media and the instantaneous reporting of officers’ actions, in some cases spread worldwide before formal inquiries can even begin.

Effective training solutions, more so than ever before, rely on a holistic and judgmental regime that can replicate to the best possible degree the tactical challenges of response, the fluidity of operational changes on the ground, and the importance of informed decision-making strategies that keeps the safety of the public at the forefront of all policing actions.

In an era of hyper-connectivity, public scrutiny can sometimes lead to denouncements of police actions within minutes, through traditional and novel media alike, often riddled with accusations of institutionalized racism, systemic brutality, and discretionary justice. These shifts in technology and the underlying public culture are not exclusive to the United States; they are increasingly fluid game-changers throughout the West and law enforcement policymakers and frontline officers rarely go a day without considering their implications or witnessing their consequences for themselves. There is no doubt that this is will have a positive result in the long run, and simulated training is being seen as one of the most efficient and cost-effective ways to ensure the right decision-making processes become ingrained.

Increasingly, law enforcement agencies at the local, provincial, and national level are recognizing the utility of replicating these fluid challenges with advanced simulations and virtual and augmented reality technologies. From the use of wireless small arms platforms (such as BlueFire technology from Meggitt Training System) and simulators of cruisers for high-speed pursuits (such as the “souped up” version from General Electric), to customizable hardware that can be used to construct any building interiors at will (as in the flexibility offered by Mobile Police Training Structures), simulations technology has become one of the most effective and cost-efficient measures in ensuring that police are as equipped as possible to handle the evolving challenges of their profession.

New answer to old questions
For both civilian responders and the military, training has always been designed to condition operational practitioners with the skills and mindset to handle their daily duties effectively, professionally – and above all – calmly. From drill practice and inspections to live fire exercises and law classes, police academies have sought to recreate, in a simulated environment to the highest degree possible, the dangers, rapid situational changes, the unrestricted oversight by agencies and the public alike, as well as the general and constant pressures of being an armed first responder.

Since the development of the first professional police agencies in Great Britain in the early 19th century, repetition and simulated stressors have driven retention of knowledge and the cultivation of skills. For instance, the most basic principles of marksmanship – sight alignment, breathing, trigger squeeze, butt pressure – are universal elements consistent within a basic training curriculum. Throughout jurisdictions in North America and beyond, such knowledge can be easily replicated in a safe and insulated, but nonetheless stress-inducing training environment.

There has long existed a gap in the traditional method of training, however. It is the physiological reactions and strain consistent with daily duties that not only affect officer response more than any other factor, but also cannot be perfectly replicated in even the most immersive conventional training regime. With the advances of modern technology, however, that demand is closer to being met in reality than it ever has before.

Adaptive training methods to meet fluid real world demands
Major law enforcement agencies at the municipal, provincial, and federal levels have already begun to make extensive use of simulations technology, both for weapons training and other duty requirements. With an insider view as to the utility of such advanced technologies for the public interest, FrontLine spoke to trainers, operational responders, and spokespersons from three of Canada’s largest federal law enforcement agencies – the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), Canada Border and Services Agency (CBSA), and Correctional Service of Canada (CSC). Each agency has already introduced simulations technology for recruit and qualification training on small arms equipment, with an eye for future innovations in the technological sphere, and how such advancements can be applied to their own unique mandates and jurisdictions.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP)
The RCMP not only operates as the federal and national policing force, but also provides provincial contract policing in eight of Canada’s ten provinces and all three territories. As the largest law enforcement agency in Canada, its approximately 28,000 employees (and 22,000 sworn members) have a vast mandate and breadth of responsibilities, from rural and municipal policing to national security. In recent years, the RCMP has been confronted with some significant operational challenges – most notably the Mayerthorpe tragedy in 2005, in which four Mounties were killed, and the Moncton shootings in 2014, in which three officers were killed and two others seriously injured. The latter incident also highlighted Labour Code violations by RCMP senior management, specifically for failing to equip frontline officers with heavy body armour or the C8 patrol carbine (as well as failing to provide training thereof for those responding officers).

Today, the RCMP makes extensive use of simulations technology, both to replicate emergency vehicle operation training and scenario-based judgmental training for small arms usage and use-of-force procedures. In the case of the former, PatrolSim IV was designed by MPRI (an L3 company was bought by CACI in 2015) to emulate the venerable Crown Victoria police cruiser, including realistic steering, brake and accelerator; plus siren, seating, communication radio, and dashboard instruments. The simulator uses three screens to project a 270-degree field of view, accompanied with surround sound to simulate the environmental noises. Five computers operate each such simulator, which allows for customization and measurement of performance and response times.

Photo courtesy of RCMP.

The RCMP’s scenario-based judgmental training is composed of simulators developed by the Cubic Corporation. A single projection screen plays a scenario-based video, filmed in a live environment, and subject to the video branching and sequels as determined by the conduct of both responding officer(s) and suspect(s).

Converted equipment from the handgun and patrol carbine to OC spray and the Taser – all modified to interact with the software – enable a true form, fit, and function to their real-life counterparts. With all RCMP members undergoing basic training at Depot Division in Regina, the simulators are currently based there, but are being implemented throughout the country on a pilot basis.

“Simulations training offers an efficient and effective means in which to deliver training. In most cases, two to three times the iterations can be practiced in the same amount of time that it takes to do one live session,” RCMP spokesperson Corporal Annie Delisle told FrontLine. “With more realistic and immersive training, the cadets will be better prepared for the ever-evolving needs of the public.”

RCMP trainers are constantly working to develop new scenarios for trainees that capture the fluid reality of frontline policing in any of the Force’s varied operational environments. A key element of training that has largely gone unfulfilled in strictly conventional training regimes, is the risk assessment of the “totality of the situation.” That is, the complete situational context of an officer-civilian interaction that goes beyond simple response based around physical ability. Informed and critical decision-making strategies – especially those that enable the de-escalation of a potentially violent confrontation through other-than-violent means – are a focus of the capabilities afforded by simulations. This, while also ensuring that trainees maintain a level of induced stress that is reasonably comparable to that which is so commonly encountered within dynamic police interactions.

Canada Border and Services Agency (CBSA)
With 14,000 employees distributed among 1,200 service locations in Canada at land border crossings, major seaports and airports, mail centres, and detention facilities, CBSA has already introduced simulations technology for use in their marksmanship curriculum. Currently, the agency operates Cubic Corporation’s PRISim, a judgmental use-of-force simulator, with plans being developed to augment their capabilities using other simulators. Currently, the agency operates six such systems at their training academy in Rigaud, Quebec, and three additional units at their regional campuses in the Pacific, Southern Ontario, and Greater Toronto Area regions.

CBSA already employs role-playing actors to simulate a port of entry environment as part of its Officer Induction Training Program. Marksmanship principles, usage of less-than-lethal equipment, such as OC spray, batons and tasers, and judgmental decision-making capabilities are all tested within the agency’s physical and virtual simulations training regime.

CBSA spokesperson Jayden Robertson spoke to the comprehensive effectiveness of using simulation technology to train members for the “totality of indicators,” which are part of officers’ real-time risk assessments in proactively taking control of potentially volatile situations, de-escalating possible confrontations, or applying proportionate force, as necessary. “Since CBSA introduced the duty firearm within its training regime, the use of simulators to train and prepare officers for the rapidly evolving and dynamic nature of their work environment has been an integral part of the curriculum. The combination of physical training, simulator use, and tabletop exercises combine to strengthen an officer’s ability to gather and analyze information to make a determination as to what actions should be taken. Solid communication skills are frequently used as the best tool to de-escalate a situation.”

A stated emphasis of the agency in using such technologies is to recreate the “unknown” factor of client interaction scenarios, instructing officers to de-escalate potential confrontations using communication skills and, should such measures prove insufficient, address the threat with proportionate and justified use of force. CBSA trainers reported that advancements in both physical and virtual simulations technology were critical to provide an authentic and relevant element to training scenarios, in which recruits can apply theory to practice in an environment of induced stress.

Correctional Service of Canada (CSC)
CSC employs thousands of uniformed correctional officers at dozens of facilities across the country, complemented by specialized emergency response teams for riots and other violent incidents. The agency has long used simulated environments to replicate cell blocks, control areas, and prison yards, but has recently made the move to introduce simulations technology to augment small arms training.

Throughout the CSC network of medium, multi-level, and maximum security facilities, correctional officers are equipped with the 9mm H&K P2000 handgun, the 5.56mm Colt Canada C8 patrol carbine, and/or a 40mm launcher for crowd management, with a minimum standard of ten less-than-lethal OC Muzzle Blast and ten Impact rounds.

Sylvain Mongrain has served As the CSC Director of Learning and Develop­ment since 2007. In this capacity, he oversees the CSC Training Academy at the RCMP Depot Division in Regina (the Training Academy is now scheduled to be moved to Kingston after being in operation for two years). He explains that about a quarter of Correctional Officer recruit training is conducted using weapons simulators – converted firearms equipped with barrel-mounted lasers and a kit that mimics half of the weapon’s recoil.

Speaking to FrontLine regarding the agency’s current simulations capabilities and its outlook for future expansion of the training regime, Mongrain notes that CSC is currently conducting a comprehensive study on the efficacy of weapons simulators within their training regime, relative to strictly traditional approaches in classroom theory and conventional live-fire drills on the range. With simulators currently testing only marksmanship principles with the 9mm handgun, he reports that initial results are most promising in highlighting the utility of these technologies.

The organization forecasts that it will soon adapt the same technologies in a judgmental, scenario-based capacity to train correctional officers in real-time decision-making and escalation of force procedures. According to Mongrain, a particular focus of exploiting this technology, would be to better-prepare correctional officers for the realities of dealing with emotionally and mentally disturbed persons, an element of correctional officers’ daily duties that is especially difficult to replicate effectively in conventional training regimes.

Simulations technology for the public interest
Over the two centuries since the institutionalization of a professional civilian law enforcement apparatus in the West, training for the knowledge and skills of the discipline has come to define the most effective response to criminal activity and other dangers to public safety.
Increasingly, frontline police officers are being entrusted with a sweeping operational mandate that must instrumentally cover community outreach, counterterrorism measures, and heavily-armed emergency response, all while contending with the pressures of constant scrutiny in online social media and real-time reporting by mainstream news.

Simulations technology is proving as a particularly attractive alternative and complement to existing training regimes for several empirical reasons. It empowers clients with the agency to use the technology to develop their own Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTPs) and implement a curriculum that is most appropriate for the unique operational circumstances of each individual jurisdiction. Simulators provide trainers with the tools to avoid complacency – the “unknown” element within dynamic police interactions so commonly encountered in the field can be replicated to a much more extensive degree with simulations technology than in strictly conventional training regimes (i.e. using the same CQC structure for the same exercise over and over). Perhaps most importantly, the technology permits the near-surgical application of induced stress towards the officer(s) in question, mirroring to a reasonable standard the realities of the law enforcement mandate to a much more realistic and cost-effective degree.

Many of these training innovations – both physical and virtual – are the products of innovative companies that have been founded by former law enforcement officers who have the experience and insight to know specifically where training gaps exist and how they can best be filled. Such measures can only be implemented if the institutional understanding comes to view such procurement as long-term investments in public safety, rather than simply unilateral costs being eaten up by tight budgets in an era of austerity. Providing officers with the proper equipment for the job and the most effective, realistic training possible serves as a force multiplier for the public interest, saving lives on both sides of the "Thin Blue Line".

The demands being made of our frontline officers have advanced dramatically to encompass the realities of modern policing and the challenges of public safety. It is only reasonable that the tried and true methods used to train those officers for duty advance as well.

Casey Brunelle is an intelligence and strategic studies consultant.