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Penn. county buys firearms training simulator

By Jacob Fenton
Article reprinted with permission from the Bucks County Courier Times

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Penn. — Montgomery County is updating its police training arsenal with a life-size video simulation intended to hone officers’ ability to make life-or-death judgments in milliseconds.

Though the $73,000 system comes equipped with an infrared-laser “gun” that tracks the accuracy of every shot “fired,” the emphasis is on using the least amount of force that is effective, teaching officers to rely on pepper spray or Tasers — electric stun guns — when possible.

The county commissioners approved the purchase of the system from Firearms Training Systems of Suwanee, Ga., last week.

When it’s up and running in two to three months, law enforcement officers from around the county will be able to train with an instructor on high-risk scenarios they may have never experienced in person, according to Jesse Stemple, law enforcement coordinator for the county’s department of public safety.

“The vast majority of police shootings occur between 3 and 7 yards — this puts the officer in that position,” Stemple said.

Cameras record a trainee’s every movement, and a summary at the end tells them how accurate they were with realistic mock-up weapons that can run the gamut from a service pistol to a Taser and chemical spray. The gun comes equipped with carbon dioxide cartridges, so it sounds and even kicks a little. “When it fires, it’s as close as is humanly possible to a real gun,” Stemple said.

Officers are expected to follow the same protocol they would use while out on patrol, even ordering suspects on the wall-size projection screen to stop or freeze. “What we’re looking for in video scenario training is the development of all of the officers’ interactive skills,” said George Oblich, a retired police officer who’s now a regional salesman for Firearms Training Systems.

“We want the officer to do all of the things that he or she would do when confronting a situation,” Oblich said.

The simulator Montgomery County is buying is like one that you would find at the New York Police Department, he said.

It will complement a more traditional firing range where officers build their skills the old-fashioned way.

The system is similar but unrelated to a $500,000 “virtual reality immersion lab” where more than a dozen emergency officials can simulate a larger disaster scenario at once that will also occupy another classroom in the county’s public safety training campus in Conshohocken, according to Tom Sullivan, director of the Montgomery County Public Safety Department.

The virtual reality lab is also expected to start operating this summer as a number of new systems come online at the Conshohocken facility.

Other projects to improve preparedness include a $12 million tactical response training center and a $3 million, four-story addition to the “burn building” that firefighters train on, Sullivan said.

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