CPD to train using new firearms simulator

MUPD and the Sherriff’s Department will also train on the device.
Columbia police officer Lindsey Mueller demonstrates the use of the department's new Video-Based Judgment Training Simulator. The simulator allows officers to face virtual suspects in over 900 policing situations.

Columbia Police Department unveiled a new firearms simulator that aims to improve officers’ knowledge and judgment in more than 900 potential lethal-force situations.

Officers demonstrated a few of those scenarios at a news conference Wednesday, including a non-violent burglary, a violent home invasion and confronting an armed suspect in a crowded bar.

Officer Mike Hestir said the simulator allows officers to practice reacting to situations in ways that are consistent with department policy and existing case law, especially with regard to the discharge of a weapon.

“This machine allows us to rehearse use-of-force decision making,” Hestir said. “The citizens really want the same thing the police want, which is skilled, trained police officers who can make a decision on a split-second’s notice.”

Hestir said the simulator can shuffle different aspects of each scenario so that officers will not see the same signs of aggression for the visual suspects more than once.

It can also show how long an officer has to react to a situation, such as a suspect approaching or a weapon being drawn, often less than one second.

If a shot is fired, the location and timing of the shot can be displayed on screen for review. After completing one of the scenarios, which typically lasts less than a minute, Hestir said officers are debriefed by their trainers to discuss what could be improved.

This simulator model has been in use for the past three years, Hestir said. It’s better than the previous system, a Firearms Training Simulator, because it allows for multiple outcomes to a scenario. There are about 300 situations in the simulator, each with three to four outcomes.

Chris Egbert, Columbia Police Foundation committee chairman, said such simulations helped officers overcome hesitation and fear to make life-or-death decisions before they were on an assignment.

“One of the things we learned was the fact that recruits were leaving the training academies because they did not want to make that life-or-death decision,” Egbert said. “It’s better to learn to identify that in a training environment than in a real-life situation where you choke up.”

Hestir said the department has replicas of its HK-USB pistols and pepper spray cans to use against virtual suspects.

CPD Chief Kenneth Burton said the department will look for grants or extra money in the training budget to purchase replicas of a Taser gun priced at $2,500 and a flashlight priced at $1,500.

Officers will eventually practice with the simulator at new regional training facility south of the city. Sgt. John Worden, director of the CPD Personnel Development Unit, said he expects the center to open sometime in October.

“We’re actually conducting some training there now,” Worden said. “We just need to finish installing phones, computers and audiovisual equipment.”

The simulator, an AIS/PRISim video-based judgment training simulator, cost $42,000 and was paid for by the Columbia Police Foundation. The foundation raised most of the money at an auction dinner in September and used money from its general fund.

AIS/PRISim sent company representatives to train four officers that are now certified instructors for CPD. About a quarter of the department, or 40 officers, have been trained by these instructors.

Columbia Police Foundation Treasurer Jim Bornhauser said the simulator was ordered soon after the auction dinner but took six months to get delivered because the company had to shoot and compile the video footage for each scenario using settings around town that officers would recognize.

Officers from MU Police Department and the Boone County Sherriff’s Office will also be able to train on the simulator. Burton said he would also like to see recruits for the Citizens’ Police Academy to train with it.

Hestir said the simulator has been well received among officers.

“The older, more experienced officers have all been very positive about it because it allows you to gain experience the easy way as opposed to the hard way,” Hestir said.

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