'The better we can teach split-second decisions, the better officers we're going to be'

Madison Brooks/Daily Clarion Sgt. Bobby Wood practices firearm safety while using the FireArm Training Simulator (F.A.T.S) on Monday morning at Princeton Police Department. Sgt. Jay Riley was behind the computer, deciding how the scenario would play out.

PRINCETON — Local law enforcement officers are can use a firearm training simulator available through Princeton Police Department to prepare for real-life situations.

PPD Chief Derek McGraw said federal drug seizure funds allocated to his department were used to rent the simulator for exercises available to all Gibson County officers Monday and Tuesday.

He said the training is aimed to help officers experience real-life situations and to deal with the stress that can come while working in the field.

"Anytime you add stress to a situation, everything that is learned is thrown out the window," McGraw said. "I can teach you how to shoot a gun or throw a punch, but I can't teach stress."

McGraw said officers are often forced to make split-second decisions while in the field on a daily basis. Doing training with the simulator allows officers to practice making split-second decisions as they would in real-life. The individual controlling the scenario on the simulator can choose how the scenarios can go during the exercise, giving officers the option to react to the same scenario with different outcomes.

"Depending on how the officer's verbal commands are during the scenario can depend on how we as instructors make the scenario go," McGraw explained. "About 95% of the time, you can de-escalate a simulation by doing the proper techniques and tactics. We want the officers to revert to their training, and this exercise is the realest way to practice it."

The training system employs high definition video scenarios to produce escalation and de-escalation training. It requires users to survey and react to verbal cues, facial expressions and overall body language to quickly assess a situation and interact with individuals using proper commands and skills. The simulator comes with more 250 video scenarios and more than 1,000 branching options.

One scenario for practicing reactionary gaps allows officers to practice situations revolving around distances kept from a violator.

"This scenario had a 30-foot reaction gap and the guy just turns around and starts running at the user with a knife in the video," McGraw said. "Well, the user is allowed to shoot or tackle the person…there are many different actions that can be made… but in the scenario, he closes the 30-foot distance in three seconds."

McGraw explained that in this short amount of time, many "what if" questions could come up. What if he were holding a gun instead of a knife in the scenario? What if he charged at the officer with a cellphone and not a gun or knife? The split-second decision many offers have to make can have a huge impact on any situation.

"It's an intense, uncertain and rapidly evolving situation, and we were at high alert like anybody would," he said. "When he's charging at us, I don't know if he has a gun or what in his hand, so it's very important for people to see and understand these scenarios, too."

"The better we can teach split-second decisions, the better officers we're going to be," McGraw added. "Our goal is to give people the absolute best officers we can."

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