Simulator helps officers, students prepare for real world
VALPARAISO, Ind. -- Max Gilliana lined up the sights on his gun to the circular targets with mountains looming in the background.
Then the wind and rain came.
"Make that stuff come down," Ralph Iler laughed.
Gilliana was aiming at a screen set up in the Union Township Middle School gym recently while Iler and others controlled a VirTra V-100 simulator.
Vincennes University purchased the simulator as part of its dual credit criminal justice program with the Porter County Career and Technical Education Center to be used by high school students and area police officers for training.
"It's a very powerful tool," Iler, criminal justice instructor at the center, said.
The simulator helps them practice their marksmanship skills, such as what Gilliana did in the rain and the mountains, but it also train for how to respond to realistic scenarios police face in their daily jobs, Iler said.
For the exercise, they ran through situations involving a disgruntled employee confronting a boss in an office, a woman robbed at knifepoint at an ATM, juveniles breaking into a resident's shed and domestic arguments that had escalated.
Officers and instructors coached Gilliana on what to do as he attempted to deescalate a situation, encouraging him to talk to the subjects on the screen.
"You got to really think fast," Gilliana said.
Gilliana graduated from Wheeler High School in 2016 and said he wished the simulator was available when he was in the criminal justice program.
"It'll really show (students) what it's like to be a police officer," Gilliana said.
Jim Markle, executive director of the Northwest Indiana Law Enforcement Academy in Hobart, said he's excited to use the simulator with trainees.
When teaching deescalation and use of force techniques, the academy teaches officers how to read body behavior to know how to respond, he said.
"Before you react to a threat, you have to perceive a threat," Markle said.
As much as they train, it's difficult to truly prepare for those scenarios because "nothing is going to be like real speed," he said.
"This type of training is the closest thing you can do," Markle said, in a safe, low-risk environment.
Depending on how the officer reacts and speaks to the subjects on the screen, the person operating the simulator can change the outcome of the scenario, according to Iler. In addition to using a firearm, the officer also has the option of using a stun gun or pepper spray in a situation, Iler said.
Portage Police Capt. James Maynard responded to two people on the screen peeking in vehicles at a parking lot.
"Hey, do me a favor, put your hands where I can see them, OK?" Maynard said to the screen.
As the subjects became more aggressive, Maynard asked them questions, such as if this was their car and what they were up to.
"We're going to figure this out," he told them, calmly trying to feel out what the situation.
Bob Gilliana, who's on the Union Township School Board, tried out the simulator with a scenario in which man held a woman hostage at gunpoint in the lobby of a movie theater.
"It's really stressful," Bob Gilliana said as he stepped away from the screen.
He said it was even stressful just watching the officers trained to handle these situations practice in the gym as it watched.
"You really see what the officers go through," he said.
The simulator, which costs more than $48,000, will be open not just to students and officers in the academy, but also to area departments for police to go through retraining to "keep them fresh," Markle said.
They can go back and review how a person responded, slowing it down to see how they reacted second by second.
"In a couple of seconds, a lot can happen," Iler said.
While reviewing each scenario, Iler said they can think through their actions and ask, "Why did you do that?"
"This feedback is vital," Markle said.
"Everyone is going to benefit by using it," Lt. Chris Irsa, a NILEA instructor, said.
Officers practice their marksmanship skills regularly, but "there's only so much you can do when you have that paper target," Maynard said.
"We're thrilled to have access to something like this," Maynard said.
Information from: Post-Tribune, http://posttrib.chicagotribune.com/