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How a virtual reality simulator is helping law enforcement hone their skills
DCSO unveils new Judgmental Use of Force training simulator
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Lt. Chris Murphy practices the Georgia law enforcement qualification course on the firearms training simulator that was recently installed at the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office. - photo by Jessica Taylor

In a pitch-black room that was once the day room of the old jail now sits a brand new, state-of-the -art training tool that is helping the officers at the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office hone their skills without firing a single live round.

Designed by Meggitt Training Systems, a company based in Suwanee, the FATS 100LE firearms training system is a simulator designed for practicing firearm qualification courses as well as running through real-life scenarios where officers must determine what amount of force is necessary.

It was purchased for approximately $85,000 with residual funds from the 2018 budget.

“If you do it correctly, it’s a good training tool,” Capt. Ray Goodie said.  “It obviously doesn’t take the place of firing live rounds or anything like that, but it is something to supplement a live range.”

With the simulator, officers can practice their qualification drills and receive feedback that will improve their aim, accuracy and technique before ever firing a live bullet.

 Sheriff Jeff Johnson announced at a recent Dawson County Chamber of Commerce Luncheon that the office’s new simulator was up and running, allowing officers to continually train without going to the range.

“From an officer safety perspective to reducing county liability, this simulator should serve to increase our overall effectiveness,” Johnson said. “Having this system is another step in building upon the autonomy of our office. We now have the ability to train more thoroughly and more often, all in order to better serve our community.”

Law enforcement officers in the state of Georgia must run through a qualification course on a live range once per year. They must shoot a total of 30 rounds of ammunition with specific instructions at various distances ranging from three meters to 25 meters. A score of 240 out of the possible 300, or 80 percent, is passing.

“If we can bring them in here before we go out there we can work on fundamentals, we can work on the basics, we can get them used to transition and identifying the target before they ever fire the first live round and all it’s costing is the electricity to power the machine and air to power the magazines,” Goodie said.

The system works by projecting either a simulated range or real video footage of a scenario on a large screen. Officers then use Glock pistols, an M4 rifle or Tasers that have been retrofitted with an internal laser and magazines filled with compressed air to shoot at the targets on the screen.

Because the cordless BlueFire weapons from Meggitt Training Systems were once real firearms, they maintain the look, weight and feel of the firearms the officers currently use.

After shooting the targets on the screen, the computer displays the analytics from the weapon that shows exactly where the officer was aiming prior to and after firing and provides feedback and tips to improve technique.

For the training officers, the simulator helps them assess problem areas and provide more individualized feedback in a controlled environment. 

“On a live fire range if you’ve got three instructors and 12 firing lines so you don’t get a lot of one-on-one but here you can sit there and say ‘okay you’re anticipating the shot, you’re doing this, you’re doing that, check your grip,’” Goodie said.

The simulator is something that has been on the office’s radar for a couple years, Johnson said.

“The courts have long recognized that traditional firearms qualification does not equate to training,” Johnson said. “This system allows our officers to truly train, in addition to their required annual proficiency testing.”

Beyond honing marksmanship skills to pass the annual qualification course, the simulator also offers the “Judgmental Use of Force” mode where officers interact with filmed scenarios such as high-risk warrant searches, airport security, traffic stops, active shooter and hostage scenarios.

Real video footage is displayed on the screen and the officer must call out commands and make decisions as he interacts with the scenario. The training officer, sitting in the command center controlling the scenario, can change the scenario based on what the officer decides to do.

“It has a bunch of scenarios but not every scenario ends in deadly force so it gives them options, and it actually lets you take the officer and put them in different situations to see how they react,” Goodie said.

When the scenario ends, the training officers will ask why certain decisions were made to get an idea of the officer’s judgment and provide feedback.

“You’re really looking to make sure they’re not doing anything super unsafe,” Goodie said. “Obviously you want to make sure they’re not doing anything with excessive force type stuff, but at the same time you don’t want to beat into them so much that they don’t use the necessary amount of force to stop the threat.”

The simulator room is still under renovation, but Goodie has plans to make the scenarios feel as close to the real thing as possible.

The projector will be installed on the ceiling to allow officers free run of the room. A rubber floor will be installed to prevent damage if officers drop magazines. Furniture, car doors and other items to simulate rooms and streets will also be brought in to train officers to be aware of their surroundings as well as to take cover and to shoot from behind objects.

To further simulate the real world, the system can also simulate weapon malfunctions, random noise distractions, weapon recoil, weapon reloading and lowlight searches and shooting with flashlights.

Without current access to a live range, the simulator is a good supplement for training that only costs electricity to run.

Until recently, the sheriff’s office utilized the Pickens County Sheriff’s Office range for training and qualifications. With that no longer an option, the simulator has helped to provide some training for officers while the office works with the board of commissioners to establish a live range in the county.

Participants in the upcoming Citizens Law Enforcement Academy will get a chance to run through the simulator. The program will be held on six consecutive Tuesday evenings from 6 to 9 p.m. beginning April 9. For more information or to register, please contact Anne Martin at (706) 344-3535 or email annmartin@dawsoncountysheriff.org. Participation is free for Dawson County residents.