A growing number of law enforcement agencies, including several in Johnson County, are using virtual training systems that act like advanced video games to improve officers’ emergency preparedness.
How do officers identify dangers in an emergency situation? And when should they use lethal force? If they do, will they hit their target?
Those questions can be difficult to answer for officers who have never been in that kind of situation. And preparing agencies for such emergencies can be costly and time-consuming.
The computer programs offer interactive use-of-force and firearms training, testing officers’ decision-making skills, reaction time and ability to hit their target.
“By training on this system, deputies would gain realistic experience handling different situations, greatly improving their chances of solving real-life situations successfully,” Johnson County firearms instructors wrote in a letter to supervisors earlier this month requesting permission to acquire a virtual system.
The Johnson County Board of Supervisors approved the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office request to make space for virtual training in its Health and Human Services Building, 855 South Dubuque St.
The space currently is being used for the Nov. 8 election, but Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek said the new virtual training equipment – including a projection system and large screen – will occupy the space following the election.
The Sheriff’s Office landed an opportunity to obtain the training equipment after the 15-person police force at the Iowa City Veterans Affairs Health Care System offered to share the $74,000 system at no cost if the county agreed to house it.
The VA got the equipment six years ago, and the University of Iowa Department of Public Safety has been training on a similar system since its officers started carrying weapons in 2007. Pulkrabek said he would have loved to have this equipment sooner, but the cost was prohibitive.
“We have not ever had anything like this,” Pulkrabek said. “It’s an expensive deal.”
The Sheriff’s Office focuses much of its training on defensive tactics, shooting and live-fire situations. The new equipment will allow it to jump into different emergency scenarios – or create their own situations based on video footage shot in local facilities – and practice responding.
The system that the Sheriff’s Office and the VA police will be sharing is called the MILO Range Pro Training System. It includes more than 425 ready-to-train scenarios — including school shootings and hostage situations — and uses interactive firearms drills and exercises to hone shooting skills.
As the active situations unfold, a trainer can change a scenario depending on how the officer is responding, Pulkrabek said. Then officers can review their actions and decide whether they used an appropriate level of force.
“It can change on the fly, and that can help them learn to make decisions and be prepared for different situations on the street,” he said. “It would be a great tool to have in our tool box.”
Neither the Cedar Rapids Police Department nor the Linn County Sheriff’s Office has a virtual training system, and Iowa City’s police force previously used one until it needed maintenance.
“We haven’t used it for several years,” said Iowa City police Sgt. Denise Brotherton. “It’s more of a budget and time thing as to why we haven’t started it up again.”
VA Police Chief Christopher Duncan said the equipment proved valuable for his officers in its ability to send them into real-life scenarios and then go back and review their responses. They wanted to start using it again and saw a partnership with the Sheriff’s Office as a way to make that happen.“It’s a good way for us to work with local partners,” Duncan said. “It’s also a good way for us to understand their tactics and for them to understand ours. If something happens here, they will respond and we will have to work with them anyway.”