When members of area media were invited to try out the Harford County Sheriff’s Office shooting incident simulator last summer, the deputy in charge of the demonstration apologized in advance for the outdated vehicles, buildings and clothings that were in the incident videos. The equipment dated to the late 1980s.
No more. Last week, the Sheriff’s Office unveiled a state-of-the art, walk-in judgmental training simulator by VirTra, of Tempe, Ariz., that offers five screens and surrounds trainees 300 degrees. On its website, the manufacturer touts its V-300 as “higher standard for decision-making simulation and tactical firearms training.”
The simulator is equipped with 250 threatening scenarios and can also be used for basic firearms target training, the latter saving trips to the agency’s outdoor range and ammunition.
But the biggest plus is the training scenarios are the kind of situations the deputies could encounter in contemporary Harford County. And, another plus is that up to eight deputies can train in the simulator at once, not one or two as was the case with the old set-up at the Southern Precinct, where the new simulator also was installed. In addition, the simulated scenes have situations where the deputies are fired upon and they wear a piece of equipment that stuns them when they are hit.
The simulator also is capable of video recording each training session, so supervisors and participants can critique their responses and reactions and see where their shots went.
The VirTra V-300 wasn’t cheap. It cost $346,826 - training weapons and five-year warranty included - and was paid for with drug dealer assets and forfeitures, according to the Sheriff’s Office. Six deputies have been trained to operate it.
“This is about as real as possible, as real as you can get without being on the street,” Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler, who hosted last week’s demonstration, said. “We live in a 3D world.”
Curiously, however, Gahler said deputies will not be required, but are encouraged, to use the simulator. He might want to rethink such reasoning. In our opinion, any deputy working the street should receive a set amount of required training annually and have to qualify, just as they would on the outdoor range.
In Gahler’s own words, “Anytime you practice, you’ll be better at what you do. Our goal is to make sure we equip deputies to be the very best men and women on the street.”
While it’s likely most of the deputies will take advantage of the simulator on their own — Gahler said as much - this seems like training that should be mandated, monitored and cataloged.
The practice may not make the agency’s deputies perfect when they encounter a shooting situation, but they’ll be much better prepared and it just might save lives, including their own.