The most dangerous situation for a police officer is a confrontation with someone who is armed.
To prepare for that circumstance, Oklahoma City police use a state-of-the-art, sophisticated shooting simulator that puts officers through a multitude of scenarios, from a traffic stop to encountering a burglar in a darkened warehouse.
The simulator, developed by Ti Systems of Golden, Colo., was installed midyear. It uses video clips that respond to voice commands. The same scenario can be loaded to change the dynamic of the exercise. In one version, the burglar in the warehouse may have a staple gun in his hand, but brandish a pistol the second time.
“It's a firearms and less-lethal simulator that gives the officers the ability to come in here and practice real-world scenarios where they can use force, use less-lethal force or not use force at all,” Sgt. Shawn Byrne said.
During the exercise, officers are equipped with police-issued weapons that have been modified to fire electronic beams rather than bullets. The number of rounds in the clip can be adjusted and a reload feature added.
The clips for those weapons are filled with compressed CO2 canisters, which provide 62 percent of the recoil of a Glock service pistol. The clips can be dropped from the weapon when they're “empty” and the simulator recognizes fresh magazines.
Other weapons can be used with the simulator, from chemical spray up to an assault rifle, Byrne said.
The lighting can be modified during the scenario so that the area where the weapon is pointed is the only place illuminated and the darkened areas must be scanned quickly for impending threats.
“You can go anywhere from a traffic stop all the way up to an active shooter in a mall or a school,” Byrne said. “You can go from a domestic to an armed robbery in progress to you're just searching a building — like we do almost on a nightly basis — that you've got an open door and you go into it and you've got somebody inside.”
The simulator puts to the test the split-second reflexes required in assessing what is in the suspect's hand. Is it a pistol or is it a staple gun? The officer's survival — and freedom — depends on their ability to make that distinction in the blink of an eye, he said.
There also are Spanish modules, so officers can practice their language skills in realistic scenarios.
A cutting-edge feature allows the police department to make its own exercises with video-editing software. One day, the simulations will take place at city landmarks, Byrne said.
“They're hoping to get quite a few hours with the recruits in here, and the other officers will start coming in here for training as well,” he said.