Tri-C officers test 300-degree simulator

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PARMA, Ohio - With increased attention on police use of deadly force, there's renewed focus on increasing officer training through immersive simulators.

On Tuesday, Cuyahoga Community College police tested a use of force simulator from Arizona-based VirTra that it is considering buying for use at its Public Safety Training Academy and for training local police departments.

Two officers trained in an active school shooter scenario using a 300-degree simulator that projects video on five panels. Actors were used to record the scenario, and a training officer can choose from a series of outcomes in real-time based on actions the officers take.

“It was very intense, very real,” said Tri-C Police Sgt. Stephanie Hall. “With this training, it kind of keeps your mind focused as to what's coming next, what's behind you, all your threat angles.”

A surround sound system creates a lifelike feel and devices worn by the officers indicate if they’ve been hit by gunfire. The officers use real weapons that have been converted to use carbon dioxide, with a laser system indicating where their gunshots hit.

After the simulation, the officers watched the scenario back, retracing their steps and noting mistakes.

“They're using exactly what they use on the road and back in the day, we didn't do that. We had the fake plastic gun with an air hose coming out of it,” said VirTra Regional Sales Manager Steve Diiullo, who led the demo at Tri-C’s KeyBank Public Safety Training Center. “They're set up exactly how they would be on the road.”

Diiullo said more than 300 of company’s simulation systems are being used for police training worldwide. He said he’s received calls from three school districts in Georgia and Florida after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida to inquire about purchasing the system to train local officers.

“Your stress is up, you're sweating, that's different than a video game,” Diiullo said. “It's a total judgmental use of force trainer.”

The simulator’s base cost is around $130,000, according to Diiullo, with weapons and other features extra. It comes preloaded with 150 scenarios, with additional scenarios released annually.

“All over the country, they're saying that scenario-based training is the one that gets people to the next level,” said Tri-C Police Chief Clayton A. Harris, noting that he likes the ability to review the scenario so officers can learn from mistakes. “What’s awesome about this is you get to go through it over and over and over again.”

Harris said Tri-C is close to deciding whether it will buy the simulator. It would be part of a $15 million investment that includes construction of a village to train first responders at Tri-C’s Western Campus in Parma. That is set to begin this summer.

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