Kurt Hildebrand
khildebrand@recordcourier.com

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January 30, 2013
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Douglas Sheriff's Office gets training simulator

I didn't see the knife.

Last week, the Douglas County Sheriff's Office unveiled its video shooting simulation system, consisting of scenarios rear-projected onto three screens with real time sound and effects.

The training system will allow officers to practice their craft using real weapons, but without live ammunition.

My scenario involved an angry husband and a woman who was in fear for her life.

On my first try, she yells that he's coming. I see him coming around the corner of a building and then racing across the yard to where she is. He knocks her down and his hand goes up.

Instructor Mark Munoz ends the scenario when I don't fire the pistol in my hand. I didn't see the knife.

Unlike real life, I get a second chance and so does the woman on the ground.

This time I realize that despite the pistol in my hand I feel helpless. I tell the woman to go inside and lock the door. She doesn't. I try to get between him and her, but I can't because they're two-dimensional. While a Taser or pepper spray are also available for the simulator, all I've got in my hand is the pistol.

He's on top of her and I'm back to a single decision, shoot or don't shoot. I think I see the glint of something in his hand as he raises it, and I pull the trigger. When Munoz replays the scenario, there's the knife, but using the software scenario options, he could have just as easily removed it.

The $180,000 VirTra judgmental simulator was purchased with money raised by the Douglas County Sheriff's Advisory Council.

When first presented in March 2012, the council got to see the system with just one of the three screens set up.

The simulator uses real weapons modified with a laser and a CO2 cartridge so that officers can feel the gun kick when they pull the trigger.

The system came with a means to recharge the cartridges, so instead of spending money on ammunition they're buying tanks of carbon dioxide at a lower price.

But the real savings comes in reducing the county's liability in the case of a shooting.

Having the sight and sound is one thing, but standing in a dark room with what is essentially a 180-degree screen stretched out in front of you isn't that different from playing the Wii on a really big flatscreen.

However, the system includes an extra, designed to ramp up the stress level of officers using it to train.

Hooked to their belts is a device that the instructor can use to apply a shock to the trainee.

I got the quarter-second dose and even though I'd seen it operate and knew it was coming, I still gave a yip when Munoz hit the button.

The VirTra system arrived at the sheriff's office in the week just before Christmas, but Munoz said it's taken a while to get it set up and get all the trainers up to speed in operating it.

The simulator takes up most of the jail training room.

"It uses fully functional weapons," Munoz said, as he racked a cartridge out of a surplus shotgun. The cartridge fit in the shotgun like a shell. When the trigger's pressed the CO2 cartridge causes it to buck, and the laser shoots out of the barrel, so it would go where the shotgun shell would if it were loaded.

The pistols are set up in a similar manner, with the cartridge going where the clip normally would.

The laser is calibrated to the screen to record what happens when the trigger's pulled. The scenarios are produced using live actors and have several branches so the instructor can alter the subject's actions based on how the trainee handles the situation.

"There are so many branches that the operator can get actions like real life," he said. "It's designed to be as realistic as it can be."


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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Jan 30, 2013 04:36PM Published Jan 30, 2013 04:33PM Copyright 2013 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.