They don’t brandish weapons or bug you about their cousins’ parking tickets.
They don’t even move.
That’s great for the repetition of target practice, but it doesn’t reflect real life on the police beat.
Town of Delavan Police Department officers have been training with the Range Classic video simulator that the department bought for $12,500 late last year.
The equipment consists of a laptop, a projector, an external hard drive and a camera that senses where the trainee’s shot strikes.
Instructor Erik Voss, who has worked at the department since 1994, monitors the computer screen and manipulates the scenarios while officers practice.
Voss can choose from more than 300 scenarios on the laptop. Each one offers “branches” or different outcomes.
For example, while Voss listens to the trainee talk through the scenario on the screen, he can click a button and make the on-screen subject brandish a knife or draw a gun. Or Voss can simply make the subject comply with the officer’s commands.
The department did not spend local tax dollars on the simulator but instead got grants and donations, including $2,000 from a local chapter of the National Rifle Association, Voss said. The Lakeland Elks Club donated the training pistol.
Gateway and Blackhawk technical colleges use similar programs to train officers, Voss said. The equipment is common at police academies but is not common in police departments, he said.
Voss hopes other local police departments will use the town’s equipment. He also plans to take it for demonstrations to local civic clubs.
Wisconsin doesn’t require officers to spend a specific number of hours on the shooting range, Voss said. “But virtually all” departments have policies requiring officers to complete a certain amount of live weapon target shooting, Voss said.
Town of Delavan officers work on the video simulator during slow times on shifts or between shift changes, Voss said.
At first, officers doubted that the video training would be helpful, he said. But as the department has worked through scenarios, lively debates have cropped up about some of them, Voss said.
For example, one video simulates a live shooting in a school. In the middle of the video, a teen pokes his head out a door while he’s talking on a cell phone.
At first glance—and even with a close look—the phone looks like a gun. The teen has been shot during more than one training session.
In other scenarios, one video subject might distract trainees while another pulls out a weapon.
That’s a realistic example, officer Jeremy Renz said.
“You respond to a call and have two people fighting in the room next to you,” Renz said. “At the same time, you’ve got their mom standing in front of you telling you about the fight.”
The simulator is a cost-effective addition to live weapons training for the department, Voss said. He worked for two years to land the grant money to buy the equipment, he said.
“Training is always the first thing that gets cut when budgets are tight,” Voss said.
The video simulations don’t replace live-fire training, Voss said.
“It’s the supplement to what we do with live fire,” he said.
The department requires its 25 full- and part-time officers to complete four qualifying target range sessions each year, Voss said.
The video training offers opportunities for critical thinking that don’t come up in the repetitive practice on the range, Renz said.
“It leaves room for you to second-guess yourself,” Renz said.
Officers can talk to the people on the screen, which makes for realistic practice, Renz said. Officers on the job talk with people far more often than they draw weapons, he said.
“Hey, it’s not always shooting,” Renz said.
Plus, officers can talk about the outcome of a scenario, and no one gets hurt, he said.
“Out on the street, you don’t get a playback.”