Statesboro police officers are now using a form of training that not only saves the city money, but simulates situations officers may encounter to help them learn how to handle volatile incidents.
A video screen brings to life about 300 possible scenarios police could face, said Statesboro Police Major Rob Bryan.
“Officers have been receiving use-of-force simulation training since the equipment went live two months ago,” he said. “By the end of the year, every officer will have gone through at least one training session and then we will set up a rotation where every officer will receive training at least once per quarter.”
The use of force simulator, the Meggit Training Systems FATS (firearms training simulator) 1.7, makes training more effective and frees up participants’ movement with “fully customizable scenarios,” he said.
Bryan said the Meggit system cost about $78,000 and was purchased using confiscated funds and property from drug arrests. No taxpayer funds were used, he said.
Use of force is “one of the highest liability categories” for any municipality, and it is important for law enforcement officers to be trained on this procedure.
“Officers receive hands-on training annually in defensive tactics, intermediate weapons and firearms,” Bryan said. “The element that is the most difficult to teach in a classroom setting is when to use these particular force options.”
Before the FATS systems, law enforcement agencies used “Simunition” training, introduced several years ago, that allows an officer to undergo simulated training scenarios with the use of firearms specifically equipped to fire plastic projectiles designed to mark participants with wax.
This involved several trainers, the monitoring of performance and safety, and posed a risk since the plastic bullets could cause injury, Bryan said.
Participants also had to use protective gear and other equipment that hampered their motion and reaction. The exercises also had to be held in various locations, and was “time consuming and costly,” Bryan said. “Technology has now made police training more effective, reducing cost … while at the same time incorporating realism and relativity through use of computerized simulators.”
Wednesday, several Statesboro police officers participated in the use of force training involving the new FATS system. Several scenarios put officers in realistic and unexpected situations, where they had to choose the best way to react and handle the danger.
During a demonstration, Officer Matthew Custer was presented with three different scenarios in his training session.
In the first one, a man was arguing with a woman inside a truck. Custer approached and requested the man step out of the truck. The man initially refused and yelled at the officer. When he finally did exit, he advanced at Custer in a threatening manner and Custer pepper-sprayed the man, which ended the simulation.
In the second simulation, Custer was driving a patrol car when he was dispatched to a scene where an officer in plain clothes was facing a hostage situation. When Custer arrived on the scene, the officer advised him his partner had been taken hostage. At that point, a gun appeared outside the front door of a trailer and a man holding a hostage came outside. Custer drew his weapon and ordered the man to drop his gun and release the hostage. The plain clothes officer then said he was going to approach his partner.
A gun battle soon ensued where the plain clothes officer was shot and a second gunman with a rifle emerged from the trailer. After multiple shots were fired, the simulation ended.
In the final simulation, Custer was in a high school media center setting where a distraught teen wielding a knife held three other students hostage. With his gun drawn, Custer repeatedly ordered the student with the knife to drop his weapon and let the other students go. The armed student became more and more agitated and when a one victim tried to run, he lunged at the one fleeing and Custer opened fire, killing the armed student after several shots.
Bryan said the new training system is more realistic, while the older systems lacked “full immersive experience due to technological limitations that restricted weapons function and participants’ movement.”
The new training system used by the Statesboro Police Department “uses system and software (that) allow realistic training for marksmanship, judgmental use of force skills, less than lethal options, and shoot or don’t shoot scenarios,” he said.
Before, the closest FATS training system available was in Savannah, and it was costly to use because of fees and overtime. Now, other agencies can use the Statesboro training system for a fee, which will be used to offset training costs for the City of Statesboro, Bryan said.
Also, money is saved because there is less equipment used, and the end result is “a better trained officer, reducing liability” to the city.
“These are situations, obviously, none of us hope we ever face,” Custer said. “For me, what the simulation shows is how quickly a situation can escalate and that you always have to be prepared. It forces you to make quick, smart decisions. You then can go over what you did right and what you did wrong. We can make mistakes in the simulation and learn from them so if we ever are faced with a similar situation, we’ll have a better understanding of how and when to react.”
Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.